It’s not unusual for the crew of lineworkers from Lancaster-based South Central Power Company to hang around and make small talk with attendees after they’ve finished their hourly live-wire safety demonstrations at the annual Farm Science Review in London.
The demonstrations have been a staple outside the Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives Education Building on the grounds of the Molly Caran Agricultural Center in London for years. They always draw crowds, and the crowds are rewarded with an entertaining yet dramatic reminder about the need for safe practices around electrical lines.
But last year, the crew noticed an individual waiting for them who clearly had something urgent on his mind.
“Our guys are really good about making sure they answer everyone’s questions, and they’ll stick around as long as they need to,” says Candi Fisher, member engagement coordinator at South Central Power, who coordinates the mobile safety demonstrations for the co-op. “They could tell this older gentleman wanted to talk to them and so they went over to say hello.”
“You saved my life,” the man said.
“That’s not something you hear every day,” Fisher says. “But he was very insistent. He made a special trip there that day to thank the guys who had saved his life.”
As they chatted further, the man told the lineworkers that he had been driving when the car ahead of him swerved into a utility pole and brought power lines down just feet away from his car.
Worried about a possible fire, the man knew he needed to get away from his vehicle, but he recalled one specific part of the demonstration he had witnessed at Farm Science Review the previous year.
“They always stress that the safest place for you when you’re in an accident that involves power lines is inside the vehicle,” Fisher says. “He was worried about a fire, though, and remembered the next part: If you do have to get out, jump out and land with both feet together, then bunny-hop away until you can’t do it anymore.”
The man told the lineworkers that if he hadn’t seen that demonstration, he would have gotten out and run away from the car, which, if the ground is energized by a downed line — he later found that it was — can send a fatal charge through a person’s body in an instant.
South Central Power’s Live Line Demonstration Unit, housed and transported from place to place in a box trailer, makes appearances for law enforcement and safety authorities, civic groups, and high school students throughout the community during the course of a year.
But by far its largest audience is attendees at Farm Science Review, which draws more than 100,000 visitors to the three-day event. The crew puts on five 20-minute demonstrations each day (weather permitting).
“We know that these demonstrations help keep people safe and protected, and we do it because, as a cooperative, we genuinely care about our communities and our members,” Fisher says. “It helps reinforce to people that they need to respect those lines. When people see that demonstration live and in person, it spurs a core memory, and that can be a lifesaver.”
The live line unit was designed and built by South Central Power employees. It consists of three portable poles connected by 30 feet of primary wire, with transformers at either end and a breaker on the middle pole. It’s powered by 7,200 volts of electricity — the actual amount of current that flows through power lines in most communities. The lineworkers show some of the real dangers of electricity and the safety practices that are used to prevent tragedies.
“A real eye-opener for most people is when we show them how leather gloves, tennis shoes, and most automobile tires don’t protect against the electricity that flows through electric lines,” Fisher says. “I think maybe the most powerful one is when they electrify a hot dog, and it looks, sounds, and smells very similar to what happens when human skin comes in contact with a line. You really hold onto that in your memory.”
Farm Science Review, Molly Caran Agricultural Center, 135 State Route 38, London, OH. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Sept. 19–20 and 8 a.m.– 4 p.m. Sept. 21. Tickets are $10 in advance online at www.fsr.osu.edu, at most Ohio agribusinesses, or at any Ohio State University county extension office, or $15 at the gate. Children 5 and under admitted free.
Ohio electric cooperative members can enter to win a $100 bill credit when they attend Farm Science Review. Just complete the entry form on the inside back cover of the August or September issue of Ohio Cooperative Living and bring it to the OEC Education building on Wheat Street, between gates C and D (originals only; no reproductions).