Have you ever been in an attic operating a hoseline and hear that dreaded popping sound? It makes it very difficult to move after hearing that sound. Oh, how I hate electricity on the fireground.
There are three common methods of shutting off electricity. The quickest and least damaging is to shut off all the breakers. The problem with this method is that the breakers can be difficult to locate and sometimes it just does not work. Breaker panel boxes can be located inside or outside of a structure. They can be located in almost any room in a house. They can be hidden behind pictures, furniture or clothes.
Turning off breakers is the method preferred by most departments. According to Firefighter Dave Haenelt of the Englewood, NJ, Fire Department, this is the only method they use. They try to find the main breaker switch and turn it off. If there is not one, they take note of any tripped breakers and shut off the rest. If the breakers cannot be found or if shutting them off is unsuccessful, they wait for the electric company.
Pulling the meter is another option. Some departments have strict rules against this; others do not. If your department allows this maneuver, you need to have a certain amount of knowledge before carrying out this assignment. Meters usually have a ring around the glass cover with some type of locking mechanism on it. A pair of wire cutters will usually cut through this wire-type lock. You have to raise the metal cover and then give the meter a strong push up and then down by the glass cover to remove the meter.
The glass cover, along with parts inside the cover, acts like a large breaker (see photo 2). When the meter is removed, the flow of electricity is disrupted to the entire structure. This is a maneuver that must be performed in full bunker gear, with special attention paid to gloves and eye protection. Removing a meter has been known to cause a large, single spark. Use extreme precaution. Some newer meters come with a locking mechanism on the ring that requires a special key to unlock them (see photos 3 and 4). If you encounter any of these meters, contact your local electric company. They are generally very willing to help the fire service with training and providing any equipment that is needed.
The last method of disconnecting the electricity is to cut the loops (see photo 5). This is accomplished by using a "hot stick" and lineman gloves (see photos 6 and 7). This method should only be performed on residential units. Cutting electricity to any type of apartment complex or commercial structure should be left to the electric company as the amount of electricity flowing to these types of buildings is radically more than what flows to a residential structure. This additional electricity can easily damage your equipment and yourself. The most important thing to remember when you are dealing with electricity in a commercial structure is to call the electric company early.
There is one rule for cutting electricity - always work with a partner. Due to the obvious dangers involved in cutting electricity, you want a partner there to not only assist you, but also to call for help in the case of an emergency. Having a partner provides an extra set of eyes to watch for hazards and to provide some lighting if it is dark. The fact that the power lines could already be down on the ground at nighttime is another reason to always work with a partner.
There are multiple hazards that must be considered when cutting loops on a residential structure. First is the location of the weather-head. If the weather-head is located in the backyard of a structure, your two concerns should be whether or not the power line has fallen onto the fence or ground, and Buttercup, the family's sweet and lovable pit bull that would just love to play chew the bone with your leg. (This is another reason to always carry hand tools.)