Power For Your Life Podcast | Season 1 - Episode 2
In this episode, we discuss what to do in the event of a vehicle crash involving power lines with expert guest Linda Stander from Ozark Electric Cooperative.
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Transcript – Power For Your Life – Season 1 | Episode 2
Original release date: November 2, 2019
Hi, I'm Melanie. And my co-op is Se-Ma-No Electric and what I like best about my cooperative is that they genuinely care about the members that they serve--the rural communities. They work really hard to keep the rates low which gives back to the families in the farmers and the communities in which they serve.
Male voice: You're driving down the road and suddenly a deer jumps out in front of you. Mistakenly, you swerve to miss. Scared and out of control, you try to control the car, but continue into the ditch to miss it and strike a utility pole…breaking it in half causing the airbags to deploy and leaving you in a daze. As you sit in your vehicle still stunned from the crash, you realize that a power line is laying across your vehicle. Do you know what to do to stay safe?
Host: Welcome to the power for your life podcast, where we focus on energy efficiency, the value of electric cooperative membership and safety around electricity. I'm Darryll Lindsey, your host, and that's today's subject. Staying safe after a motor vehicle crash that involves utility poles and power lines. Just a few statistics to put it all in perspective. In this three-state region of Missouri, Oklahoma, and Iowa in 2017, I-I-H-S (the International Institute for Health and Safety), reported 1,915 total vehicle fatalities due to crashes. 37,000 people died nationally in vehicle crashes across the country. 7,800 fatalities were reported to the I-I-H-S group in 2017 that involved fatalities with fixed objects like utility poles. So it's important to understand what happens if your car comes into contact with a utility pole. With me today is Linda Stander from Ozark Electric Cooperative in Mount Vernon, Mo and our subject today is what to do in the event of a vehicle crash with the utility pole. So Linda, what do you do when you're involved in a vehicle collision with a power line?
Linda: Well, this happens more than you think. Many times our lineman, when they're going out on an outage, that's what we find that the instinct when you're involved in it crashes to just immediately get out of your vehicle and look at the damage on your vehicle or see if everybody around you safe and when it involves power lines that's one of the most dangerous things you can do. And so always we advise you stay in the vehicle now. Most people have cell phones you can call for help. Then another thing we advise is to keep people away from the car. If you see someone approaching your vehicle, you know tell him to stay away because what happens is the ground can be energized because of the power lines being involved with the actual crash.
Host: So it's really the best practice just to stay in your car. Stay in the vehicle. Don't worry about what's going on around, you know all the bystanders. Just tell everybody to stay back because you're really looking out for their safety as well as your own.
Linda: You are and I'm sure we'll talk about that a little later also. But it's the people in the car or safe as long as they stay in that vehicle, car or truck or tractor or whatever you happen to be driving or involved in. But you know that car or vehicle may be energized. We don't know always. You know you want to just stay in it…you’re safe if you're inside the car.
Host: So, you mentioned tractors. Yeah, we're in the in the heartland right here with a lot of farm implements and a lot of farm equipment. What about the dangers of fire in the event that something happens where the bush hog hits that guy wire or pole and it brings it down and it starts a fire in the dried-up corn field? What happens there?
Linda: You know, electricity is always seeking a path to the ground, and that's why you're safe if you stay in the vehicle. But of course, if there's an emergency like that, you are going to have to get out of the vehicle. And so that vehicle could be energized and so this is what we tell people to do. You're going to cross your arms across your chest, keep your feet together and don't be touching a vehicle when you jump out, but you're going to actually jump out of the vehicle and try to land with both feet together. And then you're going to hop away from the vehicle as far as you can go, and we don't know how far that is. We don't know what's energized in the ground, so you know, we just say hop as far as you can, and that way you are probably going to be safe, but we don't advise getting out unless there is something like a fire.
Host: An old picture comes to my mind of the Bunny hop.
Linda: Yes, that's what we call it. We do a lot of power safety shows, especially in schools, and we show the kids the Bunny hop and of course, most of them know it and that's what we call it. We said Bunny hop away.
Host: So we talked about the importance of what you can do if you have to exit your vehicle and the steps that you've got to take from the Bunny hop and crossing your arms and really doing so safely in order to get away from the vehicle in case it's on fire or there's some dangerous hazard that you just can't avoid. Why is it so important to do the Bunny hop? Why can't you just walk away? Why can't you just step out of that car and start taking steps away from it?
Linda: OK, that's a very good question. Electricity where it enters where the accident occurs, which is where your vehicle hit the power pole, or the lines are down… that's going to be the highest voltage where you're the center of the voltage. And it will be very strong right there at your car is probably energized and we're going to assume it is. We always say, assume the electricity is on, even if the power lines are down. So it's kind of like it's called step potential. And you can envision, like throwing a stone into a Lake, and you see the ripple effect. The Rings get larger; step potential works that way. The center or the Bullseye of where that car hit the power pole, or the lines came down is your highest voltage. But it makes kind of a ring and as it goes out it gets lesser and lesser voltage. So I gotta Bullseye, you have a hundred, 90, 80, 70… As you step out of the car and you're in the highest voltage and you step forward into a different or a lower voltage in one of the lower rings, then that is where the danger comes in because electricity is always seeking the path of least resistance. By going from a higher voltage and stepping into a lower voltage with your other foot, that's going to cause it to go up one side of your body and out the other side because it's going to say from 100 to 90. I'm using the Bullseye as the example. Not exactly voltage, but …
Host: So essentially what's happening is, is now your instead of the Bunny hop where you don't have parts of your body contacting the earth in one single spot at one single split-second moment. That step gives you two areas of entry and exit for that electricity to travel, making you a great conductor.
Linda: You are a great conductor. Yes, that's exactly right. Your body is 60 to 80% water. I read that the younger you are-like babies-it's even higher and different organs have different water levels in them. But either way, electricity travels through water at 186 thousand miles per second and you can't get out of its way. So, you are a great conductor just by being a human being, and it's always going to go to the path of least resistance. Like we said and one example I've heard is like if you were asked to carry a bucket of rocks, would you rather carry a five-pound bucket, a 10-pound bucket at a 25 or 50 bucket of rocks up a flight of steps? No - you're going to want to carry the lower weight of the bucket. So, electricity is kind of the same thing. We say it's lazy, it's going to go for the lower voltage, and it will go from a higher voltage to a lower voltage, and that's how it travels through your body with the step potential.
Host: Very, very important concept to really grasp and wrap your head around. But you know the bottom line and the safest way to exit a vehicle if you must, is to cross your arms, do the Bunny hop and just hop until you just can't physically hop any longer.
Linda: That's exactly right because you know there could be metal culverts in the ground, or you know we don't know what's energized and metal is another conductor of electricity. So, you just hop until you feel like you're a safe distance and if there's people standing over in the distance… We'll talk about that later, but if they are OK, you can probably hop to them and you'll be OK.
Host: Let's take a short break. We’ll be back to continue our discussion about vehicle crash, safety and electricity.
Host: Back in our discussion with Linda Stander on the Power For Your Life podcast. We’re talking today about the safety of motor vehicle crashes when they involve power lines and utility poles. And just to recap just the importance of staying in your vehicle when power lines are across your vehicle as a result of a vehicle crash. It's just so important that you stay in unless it's just a dire emergency and you have to evacuate that vehicle. Just stay put. Let the utility crews come and take care of that power line for you. And while we're talking about power line safety and vehicle crashes, Linda talk about what we should do if we witness someone else’s accident or maybe we're a first responder and we’re one of the first on scene… let's talk about what folks should do if they’re a witness or in that first responder role.
Linda: You know if you've ever been in an automobile accident or witnessed one, you'll normally see people get out of their vehicles and run up to the vehicle that's involved in the crash. So, our first instinct is to run and help and of course with the first responder, that's what they are trained to do. We do try to get our message out to them, and we've worked with quite a few first responders. But just like when you're in the Bullseye of that high voltage when you're in the car involved in the accident, if you're a first responder or a witness and you run into that you're running from, you know different levels of voltage due to step potential. You're running into the higher voltage. So once again, if you have your feet in two different levels of voltage, you could be electrocuted. So, it's important that you stay away from the vehicle. Also, just call 9-1-1. There's an example, a true story of a couple nurses that witnessed an accident. A young man hit a fire hydrant and a power pole at the same time. So, you have power lines falling into water, the area was flooding. He stayed in the vehicle. He was fine. Two nurses arrived on the scene. Of course, their instinct is to help. It's in their nature. They ran up to the vehicle. They were both electrocuted. He was fine. So that's tragic because he survived the accident and they didn't because just because they wanted to help.
Host: Very, very tragic story. And you know, again, this goes back to educating folks on the safety around power lines.
Linda: I know that of another accident where a young man was traveling, and it was dark, and he hit a power pole. And when the utility company arrived on the scene, he had survived the crash and gotten out of his car, but it was dark, and he walked right into energized power lines that were sagging down due to the accident and he was electrocuted. And like we tell our students we’re talking to; electrocution means you don't survive. A lot of kids will say, Oh, I've got. I got electrocuted once and what they mean is shocked but. So, another tragedy, you survive the vehicle accident, but you know he had two flashlights in his car and you just don't think you know, or you don't see it, maybe?
Host: So, Linda, tell me what we should tell our children and our grandchildren about this very important topic.
Linda: First of all, we don't want them to think of electricity is a bad thing. So, you know, on their… relating to child or grandchild, you know a lot of them…even a young age has tablets or they play on cell phones. So, we talk usually about that. That electricity charges your cell phone, your tablet. It brings light to your home food to your table. There's a lot of good things about electricity, but it can also be very dangerous. So, we try to depending on the age of the child, we want to explain it in a way they can understand. And I'm so I would say again to tell them that their little bodies are good conductors of electricity because their main mainly made of water and how fast electricity can travel through your body. But a big thing we emphasize is you're never too young to tell even an adult. You know what we have found is, many adults don't know the safety precautions about staying in a vehicle after an accident with power lines. It's amazing how many adults don't know that. I have a good example. We had been at a local school doing our power safety show and it was fourth grade class. And we'd been there in the spring and then we went back for summer school and we had one of the little girls that had been in our previous class came up to us after the class and she said you-know-what, my daddy and I were driving in our truck and he swerved to miss a bull that was in the road and he hit a power pole. And she said he was just gonna get out of that rack and go look at the damage. And she said I said I told him not to do that. And he said oh I'll be fine. So, she hit the automatic locks on the door and told him to call nine-one-one which he did and the first thing they told him was “Don't get out of your vehicle.” So, see she was a fourth grader and she remembered that, so you know. There are never too young. We always say point it out to an adult. If you see him doing something you know, just tell him you know.
Host: So that's a powerful story and you know you mentioned education and local schools and that's something I know that you're very passionate about. You visit how many schools in a year and how many kids you know are going through classroom education. It's a lot and several thousand.
Linda: We see several thousand students a year.
Host: And I think that's one of the things that that we can probably take away from this important podcast is if you've got questions about electrical safety or education, you want your questions answered, contact your local electric co-op. The answers are there.
Linda: And you know Darryll, all of us want to educate people about this important subject and I know ours is always free and we always say will go anywhere anytime to any age group. We've done preschool all the way up to adults. We go to fire stations. We've gone to the Farm Bureau's annual meeting, you know so. We just, you know, really think it's an important topic and we cover all kinds of electrical safety. But I think that vehicle one is I'm really passionate about because it's something that a lot of adults don't know even.
Host: So, Linda, let's talk about school buses for just a second. How is this situation of a vehicle crash involving a school bus any different from any other type of vehicle?
Linda: There really is no different Darryll. I think our challenge is to educate bus drivers, bus monitors, parents. You can imagine anytime there's an accident with the bus and you know the parents are notified. Everybody's going to show up on the scene and I think the main thing we have to emphasize is if it's involving power lines, you need to keep people away from that bus. And parents are going to run up there, you know they are.
Host: Because they’re concerned about the child.
Linda: I know. And I would be too and it's scary because honestly, when you're in an accident or your adrenaline is going. You think your child's in an accident. You're not thinking quite clearly anyway. And sad thing is a lot of people see those down power lines and they think they're off because their down, you know. And so, our main thing is utility companies is to educate bus drivers. That's one of our goals is educate schools, bus drivers, bus monitors an. We start with the kids, the kids will tell the bus drivers hey, we can't get off the bus, you know? Host: Because we've been told through this education program, with the local Co-op, we gotta stay on this bus, we gotta stay in the vehicle. Just let the folks come and take care of the power lines.
Linda: And you know we returned to schools and this is kindergarten all the way through high school and do a lot of FFA farm safety. And I can remember when we started years ago. You know most of them would say, Oh, you've got to get out of the vehicle when we would ask the question what to do in the case of a vehicle accident? And, I know it's getting redundant for some of them. They've heard it so many times, but like I tell him once a year isn't too often to be reminded. Now when we ask, it's so rewarding to hear them say 90% of them will say, Oh, you stay in the vehicle and you keep people away and so we feel like we're doing our job. And honestly, Darryll, if it saves one life, it's worth it.
Host: Absolutely worth. Linda as our time kind of comes to a close here, what are just some good general things to remember about electrical safety?
Linda: I want to reiterate the misconception that people see birds on power lines, especially kids see those and they're not getting hurt. How does that happen? Or they see a squirrel running across the power line? You know, that's because they're not touching the ground just because of power line is sagging or on the ground; So many people think, well, it's down. It has to be off. It's disconnected. It could still be connected to a live wire. So do not go near or touch any power lines that might be down. During the 2007 ice storm we had people that were offering to move the power lines out of the way so our trucks could get through. They’d call and we can get those power lines out of the way that are in our driveway. No – No – No – No - you never want to do that, so. Just remember that and also, stay in the car like we try… stay in the vehicle. We, in this area, with all the farming you know you have equipment with that lifts in the air like augers or forklifts on or dump trucks, actually, even that lift their beds up. They can get involved in a power line. People can survive that but when they get hung up there gonna look...gonna wanna go look why am I hung up you know. They don't realize they're caught in a power line. When they step out of their vehicle, it could be fatal… so just all the farming accidents that we want to avoid.
Host: Well, Linda, I appreciate you taking the time today to join us. Very important safety subject…. vehicle crashes involving power lines and just some good general safety reminders. And if you're in a local school district and want to have more education, be sure and contact your local electric cooperative today.