Did you know that October 9 – 15 is National Fire Prevention Week?
Each year, nearly 500 people are killed in the United States in home fires that involve electrical failure or malfunction. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, these types of fires injure more than 1,400 people and result in more than $1.3 billion in property damage annually.
Take the time to sit down with your children and talk about fire safety and electricity. Just one conversation might make all the difference. In fact, the National Institutes of Health reports that though childhood deaths due to electrocution are rare, they are more likely to occur when children are playing around electrical wires or equipment, and often result from either faulty apparatus, or a lack of understanding of the potential dangers involved. The majority of deaths, 69 percent, occur in or around the home.
If you need some help talking to your kids about how to stay safe around electricity, Southern California Edison has provided the following tips and information:
How Electricity Travels
Electricity is always trying to get to the ground and will take the easiest path. Like all good travelers, electricity takes shortcuts whenever it can. If something that conducts electricity gives electricity an easy path to the ground, electricity will take it.
Water and metal are some of the best conductors for electricity. Because our bodies are mostly water, we are a great conductor, too. So if you touch an electric circuit and the ground at the same time, you will become electricity’s easiest path. Electricity will flow through you, and you could be seriously hurt or killed. This is why it’s so important to keep all electrical appliances away from water, and to make sure your hands are dry and you are not standing in water when you touch anything electrical. It’s also the reason no one should ever use water on an electrical fire, but should use a multipurpose fire extinguisher instead.
You don’t have to be touching the ground directly to conduct electricity. You could also be touching something that is in contact with the ground, like a tree or a ladder.
Electricity, You, and Appliances
Appliances and electronic devices have protective insulated cords and coverings to keep you from contacting the electricity inside – if a cord is frayed, get it repaired or replace it. It’s important to use appliances and cords the way they were designed to be used so you don’t damage the insulation or contact live electrical parts. If a live wire inside an appliance, toy, or power tool touches the inside of the device and you touch the device, it would be like touching a bare live wire. You cannot tell from the outside if there is a problem inside, so you should always act as if there were danger of shock.
Why Can Birds and Utility Workers Touch Power Lines But We Can’t?
Have you ever wondered why the birds that sit on power lines don’t get electric shocks? It’s because the electricity is always looking for a way to get to the ground, but the birds are not touching the ground or anything in contact with the ground.
If you touched a power line while you were in contact with the ground (or standing on a ladder or roof) electricity would travel through you. And if your kite or balloon got tangled in a power line and you touched the string, electricity could travel down the string and into you on its way to the ground. Both situations would mean a serious shock!
Have you ever wondered why people who work up on power lines don’t get shocked? Utility workers are trained to work with electricity. They wear special insulated boots, hard hats, and gloves, and use special insulated tools that help prevent shock. It would be a bad idea to climb a power pole and imitate them – and possibly fatal!
Tree & Power Line Safety
Lots of kids like to climb and play in trees. Follow these tips to stay safe:
- Never allow kids to climb in or play in trees, forts or tree houses that next to power lines.
- Never touch a power line with your hand or with any other object, whether you are in a tree or on the ground.
- Call your electric utility if you see trees growing close to high-voltage power lines or contacting these lines. (High-voltage lines are the ones at the very top of power poles.)
- If you see a power line that has fallen into a tree or onto the ground, stay away and call 911 immediately. Even if they are not sparking or humming, fallen lines can kill you if you touch them or the ground nearby.
- Before planting a tree, call your local utility locator service to make sure you won’t dig into underground power lines. Don’t let kids play near electrical equipment such as power lines, substations or transformers. They carry dangerous amounts of electricity.
- If you get caught in a lightning storm, go indoors immediately. If you can’t get indoors: Get in a hardtop car; stay away from trees, tall objects or anything metal; stay away from water (pools, rivers, ponds or lakes); and avoid wide open areas such as sports fields or golf courses.
If someone has been shocked, there’s a chance they may still be in contact with the source of the electricity. Do NOT touch the person or anything he or she is touching. You could become part of electricity’s path and be shocked or even killed. Take these three steps:
1. Turn off the main power to the house.
2. Call for help (usually 911). Tell them it is an electrical accident.
3. When the victim is not in contact with the source of electricity and you’re sure there is no danger, tell an adult to give first aid for electrical injury. This may include CPR.
4. Don’t touch burns, break blisters, or remove burned clothing. Electrical shock may cause burns inside the body, so be sure the person is taken to a doctor.
Downed Power Lines
Downed power lines can hurt or kill you, even if they do not spark or hum. If you see a downed power line, stay very far away. Do not even get close to anything that is touching the line, like a tree, fence, vehicle, etc. Tell an adult to call 911 and the local electric utility to report the line.
If a Power Line Touches Your Car
If you are in a car when a power line falls on it, stay in the car. When you are in the car you are not a part of electricity’s path to the ground. Wait in the car until qualified electrical workers turn the power off and tell you it is safe to leave the vehicle. If people come near the car to help you, warn them to stay far away. Ask them to telephone 911 and the local electric utility for help.
If you MUST leave the car because of fire or other danger, JUMP away from the vehicle so no part of you touches the vehicle and ground at the same time. Land with both feet together, then shuffle away. Take very small steps and keep your feet in contact with each other and the ground constantly.
Do not try to help someone else from the car while you are standing on the ground. If you do, you will become a path for electricity and could be hurt or killed!
Once you jump from a car with a power line on it, the danger may not be over. Electricity can spread out through the ground in a circle from any downed line. The voltage drops as you move away from the point of contact. If one part of your body touches a high-voltage zone while another part of your body touches a low-voltage zone, you will become a conductor for electricity. This is why you should shuffle away from the line, keeping your feet close together.
During A Power Outage
Your family should always have a safety kit on hand. Put the items below in your kit to keep your family comfortable during a power outage. Replace all items in the kit at least once a year. Make sure everyone in your family knows where the kit is stored.
- A battery-powered radio
- Extra batteries for flashlight and radio
- A three-day supply of bottled water
- Canned and dried foods
- Manual can opener
- First aid supplies
If you know someone who is dependent on electrically operated medical equipment, make back-up power arrangements in case a power outage affects that equipment.
Watch for traffic signals that may be out. Approach those intersections as four-way stops.
Make sure you have a battery-operated radio and flashlights. Check the batteries to make sure they are fresh. Use flashlights for lighting during a power outage; do not use candles because they pose a significant fire hazard.
Do not use equipment designed for outdoor cooking indoors. Such equipment can emit carbon monoxide and other toxic gases.
If you use a generator, place it outdoors and plug individual appliances directly into the generator, using a heavy-duty extension cord. Connecting generators directly to household circuits creates “backfeed,” which is dangerous to repair crews.
Information provided by Karli Massey, Southern California Edison safety manager