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Saturday, February 22, 2014

What you don't see will still kill you

We got a call at the power company early one morning during the commute, reporting a broken power pole.  Before we arrived, several callers had notified us directly and many more had called it in to 911.

We doubted that it was ours at first, because we had no reports of power outages, figured it might be a telecom pole.  But lo and behold, upon arrival, we have a broken pole with all three phases of the primary under tension from neighboring poles helping to hold it up.

The first arriving serviceman also noted some absorbent applied to the road about midspan to the left of the pole as shown above.  Upon further inspection over there he found random car parts debris, and signs of trauma intervention (bandage wrappers and sundry litter).

A little more research revealed that fire and law enforcement had been out here shortly after dinner time the previous evening for this wreck, a rollover.  Either no one noticed the broken pole, or word never got to us.  Probably no one noticed.

This was a very close call for two reasons.

First off, if you look at the close-up below, you'll note there is something amiss with the center phase.

What you see there is that the insulator stack holding the center phase up off the tip of the pole is broken, and the bare wire is laying on the crossarm.  Sometimes when this happens, the voltage is able to push through the damp wood of the pole and find a track to ground that results in an arc flash and line trip.  Other times, it never finds a good track but nevertheless has a (relatively) low amp sustained fault to ground.  When the latter occurs, touching the pole or even walking too close to it can easily injure or kill you.  Close call.

Secondarily, of course, there wasn't much holding this thing up, and it just as easily could have gone ahead and collapsed into the scene while the guys were working it.  We never had an outage, so those lines stayed hot the entire time until we got out there for repairs.  Close call.

So here's today's message.  Remember that wrecked cars will leave damage for quite a ways, and it behooves the IC or safety person, if not the guy doing the outer circle scene survey, to try to find out where the car came from and what happened along the way.

Saying you didn't notice it doesn't bring dead people back to life.  I don't want to second guess the crew on this job, but I do want them to go home to their families.

Stay safe out there.