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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingMarch 20 - March 26, 2019

Downed Wires: Hot or Not?

567 8899fBy Randall C. Resch

With great interest I read an article in a Springfield, Missouri newspaper, in which, after nearly three years, it reported that the accidental death lawsuit of tow business owner and operator, Ed Kammermer, had settled. I was bothered at the news comments suggesting Ed's death was possibly without fault or error on the part of other responders who were first to arrive on-scene.

On Dec. 26, 2015, Edward Kammerer, 60, of Strafford, Missouri, died, when he exited his flatbed carrier near Farm Road 112 south of Strafford. Ed owned and operated A-1 Towing for 30-years and was an experienced tower and volunteer firefighter.

A hit and run motorist sheared a power pole that landed near the roadway and partially in a ditch. At the moment of impact and when the pole dropped, a second vehicle skidded to a stop near or on-top of downed electrical wires.

Ed spoke directly to the young male caller who anxiously explained that he and his pregnant fiancé were still sitting within their truck on-top of downed wires. Ed told the trapped vehicle's owner to not get out of their vehicle and to await the arrival of first-responders.

Ed responded to the accident scene upon request of the Greene County's Sheriff's Department. Ed arrived and found a Greene County Sheriff's Department volunteer directing traffic. Strafford firefighters were also on scene where barricades were said to have been situated near downed wires.

Newspaper accounts stated that Ed allegedly drove around the barricades to the vehicle located in the ditch where he didn't see downed power lines. It was reported that, as Ed drove to position his flatbed carrier, the carrier's overhead amber emergency lightbar snagged one of the downed wires and energized the carrier. As Ed exited his carrier, electricity jolted his body the moment he stepped onto the ground. He died instantly.

Hot or Not?

Strafford's fire chief said in a statement, "(The electrical wires) were not throwing off sparks. No one knows why the experienced tow truck driver didn't wait to make sure the power was off and the scene was safe."

I believe that statement in itself was made to imply error on the part of the tow operator and to shun responsibility by the city and county; but it did not determine whether or not it was completely communicated to Ed that power was totally shut down.

Herein lies the important lesson learned based on the fire chief's own words. Downed or exposed electrical wires do NOT have to be snapping, popping or dancing to be energized. With high-voltage electricity, you DON'T have to make direct contact with an energized source.

Mike Rottenberg is one of San Diego Gas & Electric's four fire coordinators and a retired command fire-chief from the Santee, California, fire-department. Mike warns, "Depending on the voltage, electricity can arch across 10 to 25 feet or more of open air"."

I suggest the fact that most firefighters, police officers, or other first responders are NOT qualified electrical engineers capable of determining that power has since been turned off. This is especially true of small towns with volunteer firefighters and law enforcement where they may not have been thoroughly trained in high-voltage scenarios.

Towers are reminded to locate a qualified, on scene, PG&E first-responder to solidly confirm downed wires are no longer energized before commencing vehicle recovery. Treat every downed power or electrical lines scenario as energized and live. Never enter hot zones before confirming all safe. Regardless as to how many years one may have on the job, always treat and approach each scenario as your first: be cautious, aware and inquisitive.

Regardless that a settlement was reached, the importance of Ed's unfortunate death hopefully passes the message regarding the dangers of downed wires. Here's to you Ed ... you are truly missed.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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