Electricity can be an invisible killer of first responders

There is an endless list of life-threatening occupational risks with which public safety workers like firefighters and police officers must deal every day. If you are a first responder, you will need a comprehensive knowledge of potential dangers because the split-second decisions you have to make might put you in harm's way. While protecting the safety of the general public in Nebraska, you might risk your own life if you take no precautions.

Some call electricity the invisible killer of first responders because they often encounter incidents that involve vehicles or other objects that made contact with fallen overhead power cables. Although there might be no visible sparking to indicate charged power lines, they can transfer lethal electrical charges into the ground or other objects. Electricity can electrocute or disable anyone who approaches the downed wire.

Hazards and precautions

If you respond to any emergency where there are power-line risks, contacting the utility company before proceeding with the rescue is crucial. After the de-energizing of the line, performing the rescue and recovery can continue. If you learn about the following potential risks and precautions, you can save others without compromising your own safety:

  • Causes of risks: Distribution lines and electric transmissions can come down as the result of auto accidents and weather conditions like ice storms or high winds. You will be wise to assume the electrocution risk of all downed power lines.
  • What is the path of electric currents? High voltage electrical currents flow toward lower voltage, and anyone whose body connects the high and low voltage points will serve as the path by which the current flows. This path is referred to as potential.
  • Step potential: Downed power lines can charge the soil with electric current, which will be stronger closer to the point of contact, and if you approach the lines you could have one foot on the lower voltage and the other foot on soil with a higher charge. This forms a step potential with possible fatal charges of electricity traveling from the higher voltage area, up one leg and down the other toward the lower voltage area.
  • Touch potential: When a vehicle wreck is in contact with high voltage lines, the surrounding soil will have a lower electrical charge. The victims in the wreck will be safe from electrocution because of the single voltage of the car, but if you stand on the ground and touch the car during the rescue attempt, your body will be the deadly path between high and low voltage.

What to do if you suffer electrical shocks

Public service workers in Nebraska are typically eligible for financial assistance to pay medical expenses and lost wages in the event of occupational injuries. If you are a victim, report the injury to your superiors as soon as possible after receiving the necessary medical treatment. You can then focus on recovery and returning to work by utilizing the skills of an experienced workers' compensation attorney to navigate the benefits claims process on your behalf.

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