PITTSBURG — Westar Energy demonstrated the dangers of recklessness around high-voltage power lines during three arc flash training sessions in Pittsburg this week.
Westar Safety Engineer Tim Boswell led one training session at Pittsburg State University’s Kansas Technology Center Wednesday evening, and two sessions at Pittsburg Fire Department Fire Station No. 1, Thursday. The trainings were available to city employees, including firefighters, police and utility workers, as well as Crawford County EMS and Road and Bridge workers.
The training included a refresher course on power line safety laws, treatment of arc flash victims and the hazards of coming into contact with a power line.
“There’s an unprecedented number of public contacts with power lines across the continental U.S.,” Boswell said. “Westar covers 10,000 square miles of the continental U.S., and we are not exempt from these types of accidents, so we need your help.”
Kansas law requires that any equipment that lifts, swivels, extends, rotates, etc. be 10 feet away from any overhead line at its most extended point, but Boswell said the law is regularly broken. He encouraged safety personnel to report anyone operating in a potentially dangerous setting.
“People not operating under the law aren’t only putting themselves in danger, but the public, too,” he said.
His rule of thumb for any potential dangerous operation was simple.
“Start looking up,” he said. “And call us.”
Boswell said anyone — whether construction crews or homeowners — should call Westar before doing any work around overhead lines. Westar can provide assistance by offering safety tubing or blankets to go over lines. These safety items help increase visibility and reduce the risk of contact. Boswell said the service is free of charge. In some case, Westar may even be able to de-energize the lines.
The sessions also covered certain myths about electricity. During the safety demonstration using a controlled power line trailer, Boswell and Westar linemen showed how rope, tires, rake handles and even tree branches can conduct a dangerous amount of electricity. The demonstration also showed how contact with a power line can create arcs, and what damage it can do to the human body.
“This is something we absolutely don’t want to see happen to firefighters — or any safety or utility workers — in Pittsburg,” Boswell said after discussing the death of a firefighter from a downed power line in Wichita.
— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.