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University of Illinois Extension

Area Students Learn About Power Line Safety

January 13, 2014

Local students got the chance to learn about the dangers of power lines with a live demonstration presented by Kyle Finley of LiveLine Demo. The presentations were funded by Ameren, M.J.M. , Rural Electric and U. of I. Extension, and was coordinated by Peggy Hampton, the Unit 18 4-H Youth Development Extension Educator.

The presentation educated students on power line safety and how to protect themselves or someone else from injury or death. The display was constructed with the same poles, transformers, and line hardware used by local utility companies to assist students in understanding electrical systems.

The demonstration took place at Raymond High School for grade school students from Raymond on January 9, 2014, and at the Carlinville Intermediate School for 4th grade students of Carlinville Intermediate Schools on January 10, 2014.

During the course of the presentation, Finley demonstrated common mistakes people make involving electricity and power lines and offered the following safety tips:

The shiny silver coating on a Mylar balloon is an excellent conductor of electricity. "The electricity can come down through the ribbon into your hands and out your feet at the speed of light," warns Finley. Even free-floating Mylar balloons pose a threat – they can become entangled in and destroy expensive electrical equipment. Finley cautions consumers to deflate and dispose of balloons when children are finished with them.

Overhead power lines and swimming pools can be a deadly combination. The long metal rods of swimming pool skimmers can graze power lines. Finley says you shouldn't bet your life on the protective value of insulation on wires – trees can wear away the coating and squirrels can nick or chew through rubber. "Have overhead power lines near a pool buried," says Finley.

"It's kind of tough for a child to know the difference between a phone wire and a power line," Finley says. "So the rule is – if any wire is near a tree – don't climb it. Find another tree." Finley pointed out that branches may sag into power lines as children climb. Another note of caution – the power lines you see running down your streets and country roads are not insulated.

One of Finley's top rules for safety – always look up. Be aware of what's above you when moving or elevating tools or farm equipment.

If the vehicle you are in strikes a utility pole, stay in the vehicle. Your first instinct may be to get out and inspect the damage. Don't do it. The collision may have jarred a power line from the utility pole. Instead, use a cell phone to call for help or wait for morning when you can verify that power lines are still safely in place. If it's a severe accident and fire forces you out of your vehicle, Finley recommends jumping clear of the vehicle, then bunny hopping (feet together) away from the car. By keeping your feet together and hopping to safety, you're keeping the voltage more even and discouraging the flow of energy.

If the family pet or a wild animal is stuck near power lines, on a utility pole, or near a transformer, leave it. Never attempt to poke or prod an animal away from anything that conducts electricity. Call your utility company. They have the equipment and expertise to deal with the situation safety.

Ground Fault Interrupters (GFIs) can be lifesavers when used with power tools and around wet locations. "The worst place to have 120-volt contact is on the inside of the hand," says Finley, "because instantly that hand's going to slam shut." He recommends plugging extension cords into GFI-equipped cords that plug into standard outlets. If your extension cord is accidentally severed by your power tool or comes into contact with water, the GFI will break the circuit. Outlets equipped with GFIs should be installed in bathrooms, kitchens, outdoors, and any place where water is present. "I wish we could get a lot more of these in our homes and businesses," says Finley. "It's an easy way to cut down fatalities."

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