Electricity Has the "Potential" for Serious Injury to Emergency Responders
First responders must make good decisions quickly in emergencies. Some of these emergencies involve electric lines, which can be dangerous for both the public and first responders. Safe Electricity wants all first responders to know what to do when they arrive to the scene of an incident that involves electricity.
Traffic accidents, high wind, and ice storms can bring down power lines, power poles, and transformers. Remember, just because it is down does not mean it is dead. Electric equipment may not be sparking or arcing, but it could still be energized, and could have energized the area around the accident. If you arrive to the scene of an incident that involves electricity, get approval from utility personal that the area is safe before entering it. Your instinct may be to rush to a victim’s aid, but you will not be able to help victims if you get a serious or fatal electric shock by rushing into a scene filled with electric energy.
The first responder to a traffic accident, in which utility lines are either on the ground or on the vehicle, faces two separate possibilities of a deadly electric shock. One of them is known as a “step potential,” and the other is considered a “touch potential.” In both cases, the emergency responder puts him or herself in danger of becoming a path for the electricity to move through one’s body and cause serious or fatal injuries.
The term potential, as used with electric current, indicates a difference in voltage; and since electricity flows from higher voltage to lower voltage, a person whose body connects those two points will become the path for the current to flow.
A step potential can seriously injure or kill someone who is walking toward or away from the point where an energized wire makes contact with the ground. As the electricity flows through the soil, which has resistance, the voltage dissipates the further it goes. By striding across the affected area, an emergency responder could have each foot in different voltage zones, and a fatal charge could travel up one leg and down the other to the area of the lesser voltage.
A touch potential can similarly injure someone who is standing on the ground, which may have a lesser voltage than a vehicle which may be draped with energized wires. While the victims in such a vehicle are at a single voltage, the difference between that and the voltage in the ground can be fatal to an emergency responder.
You should warn those involved in the accident to stay in the car, where they are safe from electric shock. If the car is on fire and they must get out, they should jump free of the car and land with their feet together. They should continue hopping with their feet together so they will not create an electric flow between their feet.
If you respond to an incident involving electricity stay away, and direct others to stay away. Wait for utility professionals to ensure the area is safe.