A cold wind greeted first responders at the parking lot of the Knight Campus of CCRI yesterday morning.
But, in spite of the chill, no one was anxious to get any closer to a source of heat in front of them, and for good reason.
“You’re looking at 35,000 degrees in one one-hundredth of a second,” said Gary Bourque, lead supervisor of Overhead Operations for National Grid.
Only moments before, Bourque and his crew had placed a hot dog at the end of an insulated pole, edging it ever so slowly toward a chain link fence. The fence was mounted on a truck that also carried a 4,000-volt generator. Running from the generator was an exposed wire. It wasn’t touching the fence.
Bourque had warned the assembled fire and police officials from across the state that even being in the vicinity of a downed live wire can be dangerous, and that power can travel to nearby objects. His advice is to keep a minimum of 10 feet away from downed wires.
Then, as the hot dog inched closer to the fence, it suddenly was consumed in shooting flames. It was explained that the hot dog was used because it is similar in moisture content as a human finger, which would react in the same way.
If that wasn’t convincing enough, Bourque and his crew used the generator to illustrate how even rubber boots – unless especially designed – can’t provide adequate safety from high voltage. They also showed what happens when an aluminum ladder comes in contact with a live wire. Blue light shot out. Then a plywood cutout of a squirrel named “Rocky” that was affixed to an insulated pole was brought in contact with a transformer. Rocky looked to be fine, but then there was an explosive “bang” as the transformer blew a fuse.
Bourque also displayed various sizes of electrical wires, cautioning that they can all be deadly.
“Just because they’re big doesn’t mean they have more voltage,” he said.
With more and more homes equipped with their own emergency generators, another demonstration illustrated how improperly wired generators can back-feed the electrical system, energizing power lines outside the home and placing neighbors in danger. The primary message was for first responders not to assume downed lines are inert, even when the primary power may have been shut down.
With his overcoat buttoned up and his hands in its pockets, Timothy F. Horan, president of National Grid in Rhode Island, said with the onset of cold weather and power outages due to winter storms, the company wants to ensure that responders take the necessary precautions near live electrical equipment. He needn’t have been too concerned. His audience of uniformed police and firemen all kept a respectful distance, not even coming within five feet of the cordoned off area as they took in the demonstrations.