BY BILL PHILLIPS
If you haven’t had the misfortune of careening off the highway and shearing off a power pole, you’ve probably driven by such a scene.
It happens more than one might think, says Bob Gammer, community manager for BC Hydro’ northern region.
If it happens to you, surviving the crash might only be your first challenge. Downed power lines on a vehicle or simply on the ground around you pose a real, and imminent, danger.
“Forty-seven per cent of British Columbians don’t know what to do if a power line falls on their vehicle,” says Gammer.
The best strategy, he says, is, if possible, stay where you are. If it’s possible, drive the vehicle at least 10 metres, about the length of a city bus, away from where the downed lines are.
“Ten metres is really important,” he says. “That takes outside the area that might be energized.”
The risk doesn’t just come from touching the downed power lines. The electricity they are carrying may be in the very ground underneath you.
“If you can’t drive away, stay where you are and call 911,” he says.
However, there may be extenuating circumstances, such as a fire, that make staying in your vehicle impossible. If that’s the case, there is a right way to exit your vehicle.
The first thing to do, says Gammer, is to remove loose fitting clothing as it may ground the electrical current.
“The path to the ground is the most crucial,” says Gammer. “That can kill you.”
The next step is to open the door and position yourself so you can jump from the vehicle by crouching on the door sill. The key isn’t to try and jump as far away as possible, to jump so you don’t touch the car and the ground at the same time. He says to tuck your arms up against your chest and do a short bunny hop to the ground.
It’s also important that you keep your feet together and jump in such a way that you’re not going to lose your balance when you land.
After you’ve done that, you’re not safe yet. Remember, the ground can be energized.
“It’s important to keep your feet together,” he says.
Electricity will look for a circuitous route, so having your feet apart might provide that route.
“Only have one point of contact with the ground,” he says.
The next step, is to get at least 10 metres away from where the wires are down and doing that, keeping in mind you only want one point of contact with the ground, is to shuffle out of danger. Make sure that the heel of your lead foot never loses contact with the toe of your other foot, that way you will only have one point of contact with the ground.
It may take a while for you to reach safety, but once you do, call 911.
Hopefully it never happens to you, but if you find yourself in such a situation, or encounter someone else in one, now you know what to do.