The danger of downed lines

Which of the situations in the pictures below appear more dangerous at first glance?


Picture A, courtesy of Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative, might seem like the obvious choice, but in reality, they’re both equally deadly. Picture B is certainly less dramatic than A—there weren’t any burn marks, smoke, or flames at the scene yet, but the lines lying on the ground in picture B still had electricity coursing through them at 7,200 volts. In fact, the ground itself could have possibly been energized near the pole. Before the linecrew arrived to cut the power, anyone who ventured too close could have very easily been killed.

When a call comes into CCEC’s power control center about a downed line, things can get nerve-wracking in a hurry. According to linecrew foreman Gary Will, who responded to the situation in picture B, only one thing goes through his mind when he receives a report of a downed line.

“Get there as quickly as possible.”

Will says that in this case, he knew right where the breaker was and actually passed the downed line on the way to de-energize it. Though there was no one in immediate danger at the scene, the line still posed an immense threat.

When a machinery operator is responsible for downed lines, they often call it in right away. But in other situations, especially winter storms, lines can be knocked to the ground and remain live with little indication to CCEC’s power control technicians of anything being amiss. Will says he’s encountered such situations, where snow is serving as an insulator, allowing the line to remain hot on the ground.

Luckily, no one was hurt during the situations in either picture, but these experiences serve as a sobering reminder to always treat all power lines as if they are energized. Stay away from downed lines, keep others away, and contact the utility immediately. If a downed line crosses a road or high-traffic area, contact 911.