Safety training day helps linemen and first responders learn about downstream power line emergencies

BOX ELDER, SD – West River Electric, with the assistance of the Rapid City Fire Department, held a safety training day with a number of first responders on Tuesday, June 28 at the Brink Training Center.

The training was a mock distress call after four linemen were “electrocuted” by a downed power line, starting with a call to 9-1-1.

“It was really good. You talk about it and you can memorize everything, but once it’s there and it goes on and luckily it wasn’t a real one. It’s just practice. But still, you still get excited in the moment doing it.” Tucker Hohn, journeyman lineman for West River Electric, said, “Just practicing it, and your body having muscle memory for it will definitely help in the future. “

The first responders who were dispatched to the scene were from multiple agencies such as Box Elder Volunteer Fire Department, Wall Ambulance Department, Rapid City Fire Department, County Sheriff’s Department of Pennington and the South Dakota State Troopers.

Everyone was able to learn the process and be aware of the specific situation through the training.

A Highway Patrol officer and Pennington County Sheriff’s Office officer perform CPR on a dummy during Safety Training Day, Tuesday, June 28, 2022, at the Brink Training Center.

First responders were given only a few bits of information; they did not know the number of people or where those people were at the scene.

“Having a downed power line and someone getting electrocuted is usually a very rare low frequency event, but we go to downed power lines every day. So doing these trainings also helps us stay alert when we go to power lines,” said Rapid City Fire Department Captain Mike Bartling.

Since live power lines don’t happen often, most people don’t know how close they may be, giving law enforcement, who are usually the first on the scene, the chance to learn this scale.

Two officers who found themselves a little too close to the wire had to join the four who were already “electrocuted” to show the space in which they can be.

“You’re going to have things that don’t go exactly the way they’re supposed to go, but for the most part it went pretty well. We’ve had bad things, but that’s why we’re doing it so we can work on it to get better,” Hohn said. “You talk about it and it seems so easy. Then getting here and doing it and trying to remember all the steps and making sure everyone is aware that the lines are on the ground and if you come in contact it could possibly kill you. I was just trying to keep everyone out of line, especially we had a lot of sheriffs, ambulances, paramedics and firefighters here.

Another part of lineman training was to kill the line and ground it.

“After killing him, technically he still isn’t dead because he’s not grounded. So you need to take a high voltage tester, test the ground, make sure it’s zero, hang the ground on it. And once there’s land clinging to the source side and then where the source goes, then it’s dead and you can touch the line,” Hohn explained.

Despite some setbacks during the exercise, the groups were able to work together and complete the training in about 30 minutes.

“I thought it was super important as well as what they did so that we all train together, and we learn a lot of things doing these workouts. We were hoping we would have set it up well so that these guys- there can learn from that as well. And I hope it got off to a good start, and I think everyone learned a lot,” said Captain Bartling. “It’s been a privilege to work with West River Electric and to have us let them join in this training and it’s always good for us to work with people in our community.”

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