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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Knowing the Power Lines in your Fire District

Your house gong goes off, or your Minitor chirps. Traffic accident involving a power pole.

You arrive and find this.

You give your size-up, and you know you want the power company to be notified. Is it enough to give the power company - secondhand through your dispatchers - just a physical location?

How does this sound: Engine 9 arrived and is Broadway Command, semi truck head-on with a pickup truck, southbound lane blocked, power pole is broken but has not fallen, patients are still in the pickup truck which is under the power lines, start another medic, and law enforcement for traffic control, notify the power company.

It is possible to provide more information, and therefore provide for the improved safety of your crews, by knowing the line and feeder names, and knowing a little power company lingo, without seriously messing with your size-up.

My size-up would sound like this: Engine 9 arrived and is Broadway Command, semi truck head-on with a pickup truck, southbound lane blocked, power pole is broken but has not fallen, patients are still in the pickup truck which is under the power lines, start another medic, and law enforcement for traffic control, notify the power company to put Clarenceville Feeder 403 on non-auto and to not test.

I'll explain the jargon as we go on.

I'm not going to address the scene safety angle here regarding physical harm from falling hardware and/or snapping wire conductors, though. This here is a safety officer's nightmare to be sure (and there's enough in this pic for an entirely different post!), but I'm only going to talk about knowing the names of the lines and feeders in your area and how to talk to your dispatchers about it.

Every power line, be it a 500kV major transmission line or a single-phase 4kV distribution tap, is part of a named or numbered circuit. It is not impossible to keep track of these names, and there aren't as many as you might think.

If you have major transmission lines through your district, find out their names or numbers, and note them on your district maps. Major transmission is pretty much anything on a lattice steel tower or multi-pole wooden structure, or anything high up and with a lot of bell insulators.

Feeders are almost always numbered, and are usually associated with their source distribution substation. If you work for a city FD, there are probably five or less feeders in your entire first-due, with numerous taps branching off to reach everyone.

So, with a little research, a phone call at a minimum, a station visit by a power company field ops guy would be better, and a visit to the power company's control center if within reasonable geographic distance would be best, you get this info one way or another and know what the lines and feeders are called by the guys who operate them.

So what do you want of this stuff now that you know what to call it? What to do when you're attempting to mitigate the chaos?

Situation: It's energized, and you're working near it. There is a slight risk of contact or failure, but you do not feel that it needs to be de-energized. You want this circuit to be on non-auto, (or one-shot). This means you want the associated automatic circuit reclosers to be disabled, so that if the line trips, it will not automatically be re-energized.

Situation: It's not energized, but you've had no contact with the power company yet. If energized, it could create some undesired excitement. You want this circuit to stay out. This means the power company will verify that the reclosers are disabled, and they will not attempt to energize the circuit until they hear back from whoever asked for it to stay out, and even then they'll likely not try to put it back until they hear from their own personnel as well.

Situation: It's energized, you're near it, and there is a fairly significant risk of contact, and you'd be much happier to have it de-energized. You want this circuit to be on non-auto right away, and to be de-energized as soon as possible. This again means auto-reclosing will be disabled, and the power company will de-energize the line as soon as possible after ensuring no customers will be dropped. This could take anywhere from a few minutes if remote control is available, to an hour or more if it requires a crew response. It is not unreasonable to request an expected time frame before the circuit is dropped.

Situation: It's energized, and there is immediate danger to life. You want this circuit de-energized for life safety. The power company will do whatever it is capable of doing to drop that circuit without regard to who gets interrupted. Don't play this card unless you really need it. A couple of "cried wolf" events will slow their future reaction to this kind of request.  But when you do play it, make sure a scary phrase like "urgent life safety emergency" is used, to be very clear that all the stops should be pulled.

There is no nationwide standard for the jargon, but it is close enough from place to place that if you use these words and the 911 dispatcher repeats them verbatim to the power company dispatcher directly, your message should get across. Visiting with your local power company staff will ensure you have the locally correct jargon, too.

Anything you can do to reduce the number of go-betweens passing the message would be good. Ideally you want the 911 dispatcher talking directly to the power company dispatcher, and not having to go through the power company's customer service outage line. Even better, if they're willing, have the 911 operator pass along your cell number so the power dispatcher can talk right to you in the field.

I part for now with this: Power dispatchers are loathe to drop a circuit when it can be avoided, but they will (should!) do it immediately, no-questions-asked, if you clearly throw down the life-safety card and make sure that term reaches the power dispatcher's ears.

Not enough IC's use that card when it is truly needed, and there have been too many electrocution LODDs that would have been prevented if only the power dispatcher had been aware of the seriousness of the situation.

Stay safe out there.

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