I suspect that the first thing the average cop is apt to think of upon hearing the term “death by electrocution” would be capital punishment. I doubt that any officer would mention it as one of the greater threats associated with his job. And statistically, it really isn’t.
But that’s not to say it’s something we shouldn’t consider. To date, some 67 officers have lost their lives by being electrocuted; six of the last seven incident to having come in contact with power lines.
A New York State Trooper was the most recent. He was killed on Aug. 8 while assisting a motorist who was replacing a flat tire. A ladder on the motorist’s antique fire truck came in contact with an overhead power line, killing both men instantly.
Other officers have been electrocuted while assisting at accident scenes, either while moving metal objects that came in contact with power lines or somehow coming in contact with the lines themselves. One was attempting to contain such a threat from the public when a gust of wind blew the power line onto him.
A Grand Rapids police officer died after jumping into electrically charged water in response to cries for help from a man he thought was drowning. In trying to save the man’s life, he shared his fate.
Such accidents aren’t the kinds of things that inspire officer safety seminars. Yet they often are the result of the same haphazard practices that undermine us elsewhere: lack of familiarity with the area, willingness to jump into a situation without first getting a good overview, and not recognizing a threat until it’s too late.
No cop is immune from such actions. The best he or she can hope for is to minimize their frequency.
So it is without any particular degree of piety that I share the following suggestions. While tailored around the possibility of electrical threats, this advice is applicable to other dangers, as well.
First, at any accident or disaster scene be aware of your surroundings. Remember to look up and inventory power line poles for any power lines that have been compromised and might fall down. Have your desk contact the power company responsible for the pole and have them respond to the location and shut off the power if possible.
If you find yourself dealing with a downed line, a good rule of thumb is to stay at least 15 yards away from it or any other damaged power source such as an electrical box.
Remember that the voltage on the ground is highest in the immediate area around the electrical source and decreases with distance. Walking over the area can cause a fatal shock.
If you find yourself in a traffic collision and believe there is a possibility of a downed power line on or near your patrol car, remain inside. If your vehicle is on fire and you have to get out, try to jump as far from the vehicle as possible without coming into contact with its metal parts.
Our job is dangerous enough without making it more so by not recognizing threats and working around them. By using good safety practices, you will better the odds that the only shock you’ll get is a word of thanks from an appreciative citizen.