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Five lifesaving tips for staying safe around power lines

Broad Swamp Road near Kingstree 
Photo by Santee Electric Cooperative

A downed power line may not be a dead line, and it could cause serious injury or death.

Todd Carter knows first-hand about the risk, and the path of Hurricane Matthew caused him to reflect on the aftermath when the hurricane passes by the state.

“I’ve seen the ghastly injuries. I’ve seen a man who was electrocuted by a 72-hundred volt power line. It humbles you and gives you immense respect for the power of electricity,” said Carter, vice president of loss control and training for the state association of electric cooperatives.

Carter, whose department is responsible for training new lineworkers, provided some perspective on these five tips for staying safe around power lines:

Assume all power lines are energized and dangerous. Even lines that are de-energized could become energized at any time. A live wire touching the ground can cause electricity to travel through the ground, radiating outward from the contact point.

“There is simply no way to tell whether a line on the ground is dead or energized,” said Carter. “Even trained linemen can’t tell without specialized equipment.

Never touch a downed power line. And never touch a person or object that is touching a power line.

“I’ve seen trees leaning on a power line, and I know those trees are hot (energized). The sap in the tree is an excellent conductor of electricity,” said Carter.

If someone is injured as a result of electric contact, do not try to assist him or her. You could be injured or killed. Call 911 or your electric utility.

“That’s a hard one, especially if its someone you know. But the fact is, there’s a good chance you’ll become a victim yourself if you touch someone who has made an electrical contact,” Carter said. “In fact the scene from the movies is right: you may not be able to turn the victim loose even if you wanted to. Your muscles are contracted and you can’t move them.”

If a power line falls across your vehicle while you are in it, stay inside until help arrives. Warn others to stay away from the vehicle. If your vehicle is on fire and you must exit, jump clear so that no part of your body is touching the car when your feet touch the ground. While keeping both feet together, shuffle or hop until you are at least 30 feet away.

“Ever thrown a rock in a pond?” Carter asked. “There’s a ripple effect. Same with electricity. Drop a 72-hundred volt line (a common utility line voltage) on the ground, and there are 72-hundred volts in that dirt. As the electric ‘ripple’ radiates out from the center, the voltage drops, but you don’t know how fast or how far.

“That’s why you keep your feet together as you jump away from the energized car. If your feet are apart, electricity may run through your body.”

Report the downed line. Call 911 immediately to report a downed power line or call your electric utility.

“There’s no need to assume that somebody knows the power line is down,” Carter said.

The image of the man who died after touching an energized power line “is seered into my memory for the rest of my life,” he said. “I never want to see that again. These tips aren’t just good ideas. They’re lifesavers.”

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During Hurricane Matthew, real-time outage information—by county or by electric cooperative—is available at www.ecsc.org.

Electric cooperatives build and maintain the state's largest power-distribution system. More than 74,000 miles of co-op power lines cover 70 percent of the state — more than all the other utilities in S.C. combined.

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