“Shoot the Power Off” Disconnecting the Electricity
I recently had a firefighter email me with an idea for a topic for the Iowa Firefighter. As a fire instructor, he had asked several students the simple question, “What are we supposed to do when we roll up to a structure fire that has not had the electricity turned off? He included a few responses his firefighters had given him. I have listed the responses and my response to them for this month’s discussion.
• Don’t do anything until the power company comes to cut the power.
This may be one of the best options if you have no rescue to perform. It is always a risk/benefit decision you must make as an officer.
• Only attack from the outside unless there are victims inside until the power is cut.
Again, risk/benefit decision. As with SLICER training you may be able to hold the fire back by applying water from the yard.
• Just use a fog pattern.
This is generally shown in vehicle fire scenarios and is effective. Be sure to pay attention to the pooling of water that you find yourself standing in. This is as a last resort. Wait for the utility if you can.
• The power company will never get there before the house is burned down, so don’t worry about it and just act like it’s off.
As with anything, Firefighters want to “do something” Risk/Benefit! It would be very unlikely to have a firefighter make contact. It is about possibility not probability. You could get injured. Is it worth the risk?
• “We have a shotgun that a guy on our department uses to shoot down the power line at the pole.”
With over 30 years in the electrical utility industry, I have never seen a wire “shot down”. I think they have heard a line-worker refer to a live line tool used to disconnect energized high-voltage wires. This tool is often referred to as a “shotgun”. It is called this because the mechanism that operates it looks like a pump on a firearm. It is made a fiberglass and is tested at a level of 100 thousand volts per foot. They are typically 8 feet long. Shooting into the air in hopes of severing a wire would be a terrible idea. Not only could stray fragments cause injuries, but if the wire did fall you now have another serious hazard to deal with!
The best thing we can do is disconnect the power with a device designed for this. In new construction we are beginning to see disconnects installed directly below the service entrance. In rural areas there are typically service disconnect points. The main line will feed to one central location and then out to the other buildings. Take some time to tour some homes, businesses, and farms in your area. Contact your local utility providers. Most are happy to provide training for your department.
A special thank you to Andy Schuster for contacting me with these questions.
Upon completion, the firefighter should be able to….
• Determine steps to be taken when the electricity is not turned off.
• Identify hazards of electricity.
• Demonstrate the ability to disconnect electrical service.
Scott Meinecke is a member of the Sheldon Volunteer Fire Department, an instructor for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, and field staff for the Fire Service Training Bureau. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org