The Hazards of Electricity

While this column was being written, the pagers beeped and the e-mail opened up with a notification of a fire captain in Los Angeles suffering a severe electrical shock. As in most "close calls" that we report, and you read about, I am sure we all...


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While this column was being written, the pagers beeped and the e-mail opened up with a notification of a fire captain in Los Angeles suffering a severe electrical shock. As in most "close calls" that we report, and you read about, I am sure we all think, "There but for the grace of God go I." After all, how many close calls or firefighter deaths have you read about where you or someone you know experienced the same situation, only they were lucky, or not so lucky, as the case may be. It happens to me all the time.

The 52-year-old California fire captain was injured by a high-voltage power line and was in cardiac arrest. The 28-year firefighting veteran suffered the severe electrical shock that night while he was investigating smoke near the top of a five-story building. He was shocked unconscious when his ladder touched a power line. Firefighters found him not breathing and with no pulse, slumped over his ladder. He was injured on both hands where the power entered and left his body. Thanks to the quick response of his fellow firefighters, he was last listed in stable condition at a burn center, where he had surgery for the burns to his hands. Just a few days later, he was awake, alert and talking. We wish him a quick recovery. Separately, another West Coast fire officer was killed earlier this year when he came in contact with a live wire at the scene of a dwelling fire.

The hazards of electricity are nothing new. Electricity is dangerous, and it can kill or injure firefighters. This month, Deputy Chief Robert R. Devonshire Jr. of Strasburg Volunteer Fire Company 1 (Station 5-10) in Lancaster County, PA, describes a close call that involves electricity. Our sincere thanks to Deputy Chief Devonshire, Chief Rick Wentz, the members of Strasburg Volunteer Fire Company 1, the Lampeter (5-4), Ronks (4-8), Bird-In-Hand (4-1), Paradise-Leaman Place (4-7) fire companies and Lancaster County EMSA (6-12). The second alarm brought two additional engine companies, a truck, a rescue, an air unit and eight tankers from other companies. (Even though most of the response area does not have hydrants, this call occurred in the hydranted area, so why eight tankers? Because the tankers can supply more water than the municipal water system can. The area's well-coordinated area tanker task force can deliver 2,000 gpm almost anywhere, while the municipal water system can deliver only 1,200 gpm. Do the math. They want enough water to put fires out. They did the math before the fire. Good basic customer service.)

Strasburg Fire Company 1 is an all-volunteer unit whose 40 members provide fire and rescue services to all of Strasburg Borough as well as portions of Strasburg, Eden and Paradise townships. Annually, they respond to about 150 emergency calls. All fire services in Lancaster County are provided by volunteer firefighters with the exception of Lancaster City, which has a fully career fire department that is an active participant in the countywide fire mutual aid response and dispatch system.

At 4:59 P.M. on Friday, Aug. 26, 2005, Strasburg Volunteer Fire Company 1 and others as a part of the first alarm were dispatched to a reported building fire at 49 East Main St. in Strasburg Borough. The initial dispatch alerted Engines 5-10-1, 5-10-2, 5-4-1, 5-4-2 and 4-8-2 along with Tankers 5-10 and 4-1 and EMS units Medic 6-12-10 and QRS (Quick Response Service, a non-transport EMS response unit) 6-12. On the initial dispatch, units were directed by the Lancaster County Communications Center to switch to a different frequency, one that they do not usually use, due to an ongoing incident on the primary frequency.

This account is provided by Deputy Chief Robert R. Devonshire Jr.:

When I responded (Deputy 5-10), I was told by communications that the caller reported a shed on fire. The second caller stated the fire was extending to a neighboring garage. The caller said the garage had an apartment unit above it and that all occupants where out of the building. Chief 5-10 (Chief of Department Rick Wentz) went on location about a minute after the dispatch, confirmed a working fire and requested Rescue 4-8 for a rapid intervention team assignment.

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