Generally at a structure fire, electric power should remain on for as long as safety permits. Electricity provides power for lights, which assists search and rescue operations. It keeps fire pumps running for fire extinguishment and elevators operated by firefighters for evacuation. However, there are certain times during a fire or emergency operation when electric power should be immediately removed to protect firefighters and trapped victims.
1. Electricity should be cut off before overhaul starts. Normal current in a residential building can kill firefighters. During overhaul, walls, ceilings and floors are sometimes broken open in order to search for hidden fire. Metal tools can come in contact with electric wires behind these walls and ceilings. Firefighters standing on a wet floor in a burned out room can get a metal tool entangled in a live wire. This can cause the firefighter to be electrocuted or severely shocked.
2. When electricity is the source of heat causing the fire, power must be immediately cut off. Also, if a victim is being electrocuted, power must be removed from the wire or appliance threatening the trapped person. To handle this type of fire or emergency, firefighters must be trained to safely shut off electricity to residential buildings. Utility companies cannot respond quickly enough to do the job.
3. Explosions and structural collapse rip open walls, ceilings and floors of a structure. Live electric wires are threaded throughout the rubble, hanging dangerously in midair and laying around the ground. A collapse search and rescue plan must be put into action. One of the most important parts of the first step of the collapse rescue plan is to shut off all the utilities such as water and electricity.
Vincent Dunn is a retired FDNY Deputy Chief. For more tactical advice and tips, go to Vincentdunn.com. For lecture information, call 1-800-231-3388.
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