On Tuesday, a one-car accident north of Hillsboro resulted in a utility pole being sheared in two and live power lines laying on the shoulder of the road containing 7,200 volts of electricity.
The next day, by coincidence, a safety demonstration of what to do when confronted with the danger of downed live power lines, and to instill a healthy respect for the potential dangers of electricity, was put on by South Central Power at its facility on Danville Pike in Hillsboro.
Mary Ann Fulton, an energy advisor for the electric utility, said it was all part of South Central’s commitment to public education and safety, with demonstrations throughout the day.
“The electrical safety setups are all designed to show what our people do during an outage,” Fulton said. “What we show during these demonstrations is various things we’ve seen and experienced out on the lines, and to inform the public of what to do if they find themselves in these situations.”
Lineman Mike Isaac put his fingers in his ears as Kevin Kemmerer, who spent 30-years as a lineman, triggered a simulation of what happens to a fusible link on a typical transformer when hit by lightning or some other overload, with the ensuing small explosion easily heard over a block away.
“People think that during a thunderstorm they heard a lightning strike,” Kemmerer said. “Actually, what they heard was a fuse about the size of a paper towel cylinder exploding when it was hit with an overload on a transformer.”
When confronted with an accident similar to Tuesday’s, he said that when they get the call of an automobile crash with wires down, safety for the public immediately becomes paramount.
“Securing the area so everybody is safe is our first objective,” Kemmerer said. “If it’s not grounded, it’s not dead until we can get those lines grounded — the safety of everyone in close proximity to those downed lines is our foremost concern.”
Another of his concerns are home generators, which are more numerous in rural areas served by South Central Power and that must be properly installed to insure safety for both the homeowner and the utility.
He said the purpose of the typical utility pole transformer is to step-down the line voltage from the standard 7,200 volts to household voltage of 240 or 120 volts, and that the transformer works both ways, which could result in a back-feed into the power lines.
If the generator hasn’t been installed properly with disconnects, Kemmerer said, it can feed power through the bottom of the transformer and put power out into the lines, potentially causing damage to equipment and endangering the lives of personnel.
Mark Owen is communications manager for the utility, and said South Central has been doing live line demonstrations for several years.
“This year, in addition to doing this at the Farm Science Review, which we do every year,” he said, “we decided to set up a demonstration at each of our offices for the public and first responders so they could learn first-hand about the dangers and hazards of electricity.”
He said the safety demo would next be at the Farm Science Review, scheduled for Sept. 17-19 at Ohio State University in Columbus, and on Oct. 3 and Oct. 30 at South Central’s offices in Lancaster and Canal Winchester.
Isaac is a 14-year lineman and advised everyone to have a healthy respect and fear of electricity in general, and the danger of downed power lines.
“Electricity is something you don’t see, smell or hear,” he said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, or see wires down, just stay away from it. If it’s not grounded, it’s not dead.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.