Sometimes, a teachable moment can become a life-saving one, too.
One such moment occurred recently in Montebello when the driver of a minivan apparently suffered a blown tire and crashed into a power pole, bringing 16,000-volt power lines down across the hood of his vehicle and over the crash scene.
With the driver trapped in his van by energized lines and nearby fences electrified, it was a scene fraught with danger. Or, in the words of Montebello Fire Department Capt. Fernando Palaez, the most “horrific” scene of its kind he has witnessed.
“I’m thinking because of the voltage that was around him and because there was a fire hydrant only a couple of feet from him that he could have taken out, he is very fortunate to be alive,” he said. “I mean water and energized … Everything was there for a deadly disaster.”
For several crucial reasons, however, a disaster was avoided.
Most importantly, the driver stayed in his vehicle. Also, no one tried to approach the van, onlookers kept their distance and no one touched anything that was electrified. The police and fire departments also kept the area safe until Southern California Edison (SCE) crews arrived to de-energize the power lines.
“I think a lot of it was police education, immediately. Then fire getting there immediately,” said Palaez, stationed only about seven blocks away. “Nobody was approaching the car. They definitely knew the car was hands off.
“Our training is basically to isolate and deny entry completely, secure the perimeter completely, try to keep [the driver] stable inside and get the pole numbers for Edison as soon as possible.”
There are lessons in the accident — which took about an hour to play out on a January night — for everyone. And one of the main lessons is to avoid coming in contact with power lines and to always assume that power lines are energized and dangerous.
SCE will soon launch a territory-wide campaign to educate its customers about these dangers. The utility is reaffirming its commitment to educate the public about power-line safety by encouraging customers to “Stay Aware. Stay Safe.”
Downed power lines are caused by many things beside accidents, including high or Santa Ana winds, rainstorms and even metallic balloons. People should never approach or touch them or anything in contact with them and call 911 immediately.
On average, there are 400 electrocutions annually in the U.S., according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of those, 9 percent occur when ladders contact power lines and 5 percent happen when people contact them.
Jose Mercado helped found the Hispanic Arborist Association and serves as its executive director. He partnered with SCE last year to increase awareness around power lines to ensure the safety of tree and landscape workers.
“Sometimes, only days after a session, we’ve been told about a job that involved trees and power lines where Edison was called,” he said. “[Edison] came out and cleared the branches around the power line and we were able to do our job safely. If not for that, we’re probably looking at a major injury.”
“Whether they’re overhead or downed, safety awareness around power lines is absolutely crucial for our customers,” said James Mackenzie, SCE principal manager of Corporate Safety Programs. “We want our customers to be informed and aware so they can always make the right decisions around power lines.”