Does your Department have and enforce electrical policy?
Every fire department must have a policy in place addressing electrical safety on the fireground. The reason for this is that there is no time to react when a zap is going to occur….it happens too fast. No one can keep the consequences from occurring, so it is imperative that this is addressed before the incident occurs. The NFPA says to stay away from all electrical wires for minimum of ten feet. Note the word “all” is used. This includes what some term “low voltage” lines such as cable wires. Firefighters, especially those standing on metal ladders, are vulnerable to electric shock and electrocution from any wire. Failure to respect electricity is a deadly trait for a fire department to have. Aerial devices, ground ladders, hose streams and hose lines must be kept clear. Be aware that downed power lines can cause other structural items such as fire escapes, aluminum siding, metal drainpipes, and fences to become changed. That low voltage line you are about to grab just might have a primary line laying across it somewhere.
It is equally critical to ensure firefighters understand and respect electricity inside a building. Whether disconnecting a fixture, removing a ballast, or even working around a neon sign, severe shock and the chance of death is only a slip-up away. Ensuring power is shut down before making any potential contact should be an enforced operational routine.
Departments must ensure an electrical safety policy is in place and enforced at all times. At an absolute minimum, documented training should be conducted once a year. It is best to re-visit this awareness several times a year and an even better idea to point out hazards while on the fire scene during responses. It is almost criminal that few departments have a policy on electrical safety. Firefighters in New Jersey have been killed and severely injured from electricity on several occasions in the last ten or fifteen years. There was no time to stop it. It happened too fast. So, where do we get this policy?
- Go to the source: The power company in your area. Whoever supplies and services the electricity in your area usually has a program that will send training reps to your department to not only address electricity but natural gas as well. They provide this training free of charge. Many departments have taken advantage of this. They need to then take the next step…a policy. The power company may have a sample policy available for fire department adoption. All you might need to do is adjust it to fit your departmental needs, put your letterhead on it, have the Chief of Department sign it as an order and you are in business. Now all you have to do is train and document.
- Share: Other fire departments There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Check with your mutual aid departments. Someone might have a policy. Again, borrow (steal) it, make it your own, conduct training, and enforce it.
- Network: Fire Engineering Training Community There are a ton of websites out there, some good…some not so good. You will have to evaluate that on your own. A great site, which is like a Facebook for firefighters, is the Fire Engineering Training Community. It’s free. You can have your own page; join groups that you like, and network…..network….network. There is a Bulletin Board on the community site. You can make a request for an electrical SOP policy (and for almost anything else as well) and I guarantee you will have a bunch within 24 hours. It is a great resource.
- Write one yourself. Don’t overlook the local heroes. Do a little research. Put something together. Keep it simple. I have included below a very simple electrical policy that along with proper training on the dangers of electrical power, says it all.
An additional reason to have this policy in place relates to litigation. If you think you cannot be sued in the year 2016, stick your head back in the sand after reading this. If someone from your department is damaged from electricity and there is not policy in place and/or documented training, there is liability everywhere. Protect your personnel. Protect yourself. Protect your department. Keep electrical safety as a major awareness and enforcement issue on your department.
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QOTM: Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the management of fear