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Credit: Jean Anderson

Keeping Firefighters Safe Around Electricity

SCE teaches firefighters the dangers in the field caused by downed lines and other electrical hazards.
By Mary Ann Milbourn

This video shows the dangers of power lines falling on a vehicle after an accident. Video Courtesy of NBCLA.

Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Steve Bowie can sum up in two words everything he learned about electricity when he attended the fire academy in 1991 — stay away.

While it was good advice, it really didn’t prepare him for all the electrical hazards he and other firefighters face every day in the field ranging from downed lines to dangerously wired marijuana grow houses.

To help bridge that gap in knowledge and to keep first responders safe, Southern California Edison’s two fire management officers have been teaching a two-hour electricity safety course to fire academy cadets and departments throughout Southern California.

“I began doing these classes because I kept going out in the field and seeing firefighters in dangerous situations,” said Scott Brown, an SCE fire management officer who has worked both as an SCE lineman and troubleman and as a firefighter.

Brown discussed electrical safety at a recent presentation at the Los Angeles County Fire Academy. The 46 cadets sat in rapt attention as Brown detailed the dangers they might face.

He noted that electricity is often unseen and unheard. He said it’s not just a downed electrical line that can be dangerous, but anything it may touch, like a chain link fence or metal siding on a house.

“Copper wire turns green over time,” Brown said. “It could be laying on the ground and really, really tough to see.”

He showed a video, “Electrical Safety for First Responders,” that went through a variety of scenarios they may face in the field, like a fire hydrant that has been sheared off and is spouting water into energized electrical lines and downed power lines on a vehicle after a traffic accident.

The video cautioned that a downed power line should always be given a wide berth — at least 30 feet — because electricity is always looking for a way to go to ground.

“For electricity, your body is like a piece of wire,” Brown explained. “You are a human conductor and we don’t want you to be the path to ground.”

The SCE video also featured an interview with the late Dr. A. Richard Grossman, founder of the Grossman Burn Center in the San Fernando Valley, who talked about the hidden dangers of electrical burns.

Brown noted SCE is always available to respond to an electrical incident and that firefighters shouldn’t hesitate to call.

“You don’t need to be an expert on electrical safety,” Brown said. “You have allies.”

Bowie, the Los Angeles fire captain, said the information SCE provides fire academy cadets in these electrical safety classes is invaluable.

“It’s one of the most important classes they get,” Bowie said. “With electricity, there are no second chances.”

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