High-Voltage Training Pays Lifesaving DividendsBy Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer Published: July 8th, 2014
When Deputy Fire Rescue Chief Bud Benefield of Carroll County, Ga., tells his crews about the importance of safety training, he has a real-life example to back it up.
Just two weeks after Carroll Electric Membership Cooperative employees conducted a high-voltage demonstration training for career firefighters, first responders put what they learned into play—and might have saved lives in the process.
“Training pays lifesaving dividends,” Benefield said, after a single-vehicle accident left live power lines dangling precariously along a road north of Carrollton, Ga., in predawn darkness.
The crash occurred when a driver veered off the road at about 5 a.m. on May 31, striking a power pole and snapping it in two. A caller to 911 said she could hear a female driver trapped in the vehicle plead for help, as live wires arced and started to burn.
Fortunately, during three days in mid-May, Tommy Cook, construction manager at Carroll EMC, and journeyman lineman David Baskin had provided extensive training for more than 100 Carroll County firefighters on what to do in high-voltage situations.
So when units from Fire Station 15 responded within five minutes, they were well prepared, Benefield said.
They verified that primary and secondary service lines were involved, and determined that Carroll EMC would have to de-energize the lines quickly, so they could tend to the motorist.
In a fortuitous stroke, Benefield was monitoring radio traffic for Carroll County Fire Rescue. He realized his son Wes, a lineman at Carroll EMC, was on standby and would be contacted by the co-op to respond to the accident.
“I phoned Wes informing him of our situation and that we needed assistance with shutting the power off as quickly as possible,” Benefield noted in a letter of appreciation to Carrollton-based Carroll EMC.
“I offered to meet him a short distance from each of our homes and provide an escort to the scene for him and his equipment as the urgency of this call seemed to intensify as minutes passed.”
In the meantime, rescue personnel instructed the driver to remain in her car until utility workers could de-energize the lines. The car was not on fire, but firefighters put out a small blaze near the vehicle.
“Fire Rescue crews, armed with the training provided just two weeks earlier, safely secured the scene,” Benefield said. “Upon their arrival, EMC personnel immediately went to work shutting off power to the scene. Within minutes our crews were given the OK to enter and safely extricate our patient.”
Incredibly, the driver was not injured seriously and walked away from the accident.
Without proper training and an excellent working relationship between agencies, Benefield said the situation “had the potential for serious injury and quite probably the loss of life.”
The downed wires, he noted, were nearly invisible in darkness against the flashing lights of emergency vehicles.
“This instance is a great example of the relationship the co-op has with local emergency agencies. It also demonstrates how our employees are trained to respond to hazardous situations,” said Jerome Johnston, interim CEO at Carroll EMC.
There’s no question that training will continue to pay lifesaving dividends, Benefield added.
“It is our intention that the Carroll EMC High Voltage Demonstration will remain one of our departmental required courses offered at specific intervals,” he said.