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Sunday, May 9, 2010

If at First You Fail, then Fail Again

So the little black gadget on my belt beeped and starting squawking. Something about a truck and some power lines down. Close by. Bah. It immediately sounded like a two hat job for me, which can either be really interesting, or really complicated and bad. Two-hatting a job tends to cause problems more than help a situation, despite the occasional report of it working out well.

Such as it is. I came online and reported en route.

I arrived first in front of the dispatch intersection, the 14kV feeder running along the road was intact as far as I could see in both directions. No wrecked trucks in sight. No traffic backed up for an obstruction. Nothing.

Some radio discussion followed. The rescue and engine showed up, and they hadn't seen anything either.

We were about to ask for a callback to the RP, when I looked over into the gravel/sand pit facility which covers a lot of acreage adjacent to where we're at. There are two sets of towers holding three 115kV lines running through there, well off the road.

Well, nothing else was working out, so I went in there, down the dirt road, past some trees. Sure enough, there are two dump trucks side-by-side at the edge of a sand storage area, dump boxes extended upward, both inches from the same phase of one of the big lines.

Internal voice says: Dude, why are those lines so close to the ground?

I stopped as one of the workers approached, and asked if they had contacted the lines. Yup. Anyone hurt? Nope. No signs of smoke or fire, lucky boneheads. I radioed in the actual location, and then called the power dispatch center on my cell.

Zach, my fellow dispatcher, answered.

Hey man, did you guys just have a lockout on one of the Collarville 115 lines? 

Yeah, it reclosed the first time but then tripped again and locked out a few minutes later. How'd you know?

Well, my friend, I've got a good tale forming up to share later, but for now, tag the tripped line out under my name.

With the hazard mitigated, no fire and no hurt people, the engine and rescue and other POV arrivals all bailed out and left me to my two-hatting. And the paperwork. Getting there first does have drawbacks.

So, what happened?

Well, I was unloading when I hit the wire. It was really loud. It blew out my tires.

Yeah, it sure did. You're lucky you didn't get whacked in the truck or caught in it with fire on all sides, buddy. What about this other truck next to yours, how did it get here too? All of its tires are also scorched and flat, but I just can't quite accept that what I am about to hear could have actually happened.

Well, I got out of my truck to see what happened, and I was looking at my tires, when Charlie there came in. My truck was in the way and I couldn't move it, so I told him to pull alongside me instead.

Oh no, he didn't.

Yeah, of course he did. Blam! Flash-bang, blown tires, smoke. Two startled drivers.

It was after the second whack that the first driver noticed the wires. Ohhhhh, that's what happened! We have a winner.

Un-FREAKING-believable! One guy almost gets dead, and then minutes later is unable to assess his near-miss enough to prevent the next guy from doing precisely the same thing. So here are two dump trucks, side-by-side, boxes up, tires blown. I cannot count the number of narrow escapes these guys combined for in this single incident.

The only thing that likely saved the first guy from getting whacked while exiting, and helped keep either truck from catching fire, is that the blown tires dropped each truck several inches, out of reach of the line. Else both trucks would have again been smacked by one or two recloses each.

Sadly I didn't get pictures, but plenty were taken by others.

And oh yeah, why were the wires so low as to be in reach of the dump trucks? Well, it was a very large facility, and over time they had in-filled the land under the wires as to raise it. A lot. Over a period of several years. And no one noticed how close they were getting to the wires, until that day.


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