Behind-the-scenes look at dangers faced by SRP repair crews

Posted at 2:42 PM, Aug 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-03 02:21:21-04

Monsoon season for 2018 is not over yet, and it's already packed a good punch. Throughout the Valley, storms and strong wind gusts have downed trees, toppled power poles, and left a big mess for residents to clean up.

One of the biggest problems during these storms is the frequency of power outages. It may seem like hours, as utility crews work diligently to get power restored to homes.

To showcase some of the dangers their crews deal with while out in the field, and to warn people about the dangerous situations you might encounter during these storms, SRP officials gave ABC15 a hands-on demonstration of what can happen when you come in contact with a downed power line.

Crews said such scenarios were very possible not just during the Monsoon, but all year round with distracted drivers hitting power poles. SRP crews said they typically see about 100 poles going down every year.

A common scenario that you might see is power lines on the ground, in the worst case scenario, a pole on top of your car while you're in it. SRP crews warn the public to treat all lines as if they are energized.  

Jason Rippey, a lineman for SRP, said some lines could be energized with over 12,000 volts of electricity.

If a pole crashes onto your car, SRP officials stressed you stay inside your vehicle and call 911. If you do have to get out due to a car fire or medical emergency, crews demonstrated the best way to do so was to jump out with both feet hitting the ground at the same time.

"Land with both feet on the ground and then we're going to hop away from the vehicle. If you're unable to jump, shuffle your feet without picking them off the ground and get as far away as possible from the vehicle and from the hazard," said Rippey.

He stressed the importance of keeping both feet on the ground at the same time.

SRP officials also demonstrated what could happen if a lineman or resident accidentally contacted an energized line.

Using a mannequin as a prop, they replicated a grapefruit and hotdogs as organs and fingers, then passed a current through the mannequin. Instantly you could see smoke and flames coming out of the mannequin's head, and charring around the body parts, replicated by the food.

"Sometimes on the external, you may just see a few small points, but on the internal, as the electricity passes through you, it's causing a lot of damage," explained Bret Marchese, the Director of Distribution Maintenance for SRP.

He added that 120 volts which is what was present in most homes was enough to cause major injuries or a fatality. The current running through energized power lines was 60 times stronger at 7,200 volts.

That is why SRP officials asked the public for patience during power outages. While crews worked fast to restore power, it was a job that had to be done very cautiously.

"We take safety as our top priority. We want our employees to go home the same way they came into work. We really stress they take their time," said Marchese.

SRP operates and maintains 19.974 circuit miles of lines that make up the entire distribution system. This system includes about 3,511 miles of an overhead conductor, which is more susceptible to outages from severe weather and other factors outside of SRP control.

Marchese said most of their poles were able to withstand more than 50 mile-an-hour wind gusts. While SRP has replaced thousands of wooden poles with steel ones, Marchese stressed they also saw steel poles coming down during severe weather.

SRP provides power to about 1 million retail customers in a 2,900 square mile service area.