June 2011

Spotlight on Safety
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Electrical Training Boosts Safety for Calif. Firefighters

In the midst of an emergency, electrical problems can spell disaster for firefighters already performing risky work. When power lines tumble—leaving live wires strewn across city streets—or when electricity needs to be cut off at a burning house, split-second decisions can save lives.

Or, they can put a first responder in a hospital. Each year, hundreds of firefighters are treated at burn centers nationwide due to occupational hazards like electrical accidents.

"The worst part is that most of these injuries could be avoided," said Riverside/San Bernardino JATC instructor Tom Ayers. As part of a new initiative in the Inland Empire area of Southern California, Ayers is helping members of the Redlands Fire Department beef up their knowledge of electrical safety.

"They show up on scenes where you've got downed lines, sometimes with water thrown into the mix," Ayers said. "You've got to be extremely careful about what to watch out for."

Last month, Ayers and fellow JATC instructor Laura Vergeront began offering specialized trainings for the department. They augment their instruction of OSHA electrical safety requirements—including how to handle arc flash—with tailor-made lessons on how to face newer challenges.

"In our presentations, we ask the firefighters what their concerns are with specific electrical hazards they might have encountered," said Vergeront, a Riverside Local 440 member. "One of the main concerns right now is about solar panel systems on roofs," which can be tricky to bring offline in rainstorms or at nighttime.

The firefighters are enthusiastic, too. "Doing that job means that you're constantly getting new information and you're trained all the time," Ayers said. "For them to like us, we knew we'd have to be pretty good—and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive."

The safety presentations were coordinated by Jan Hudson, business development director at the Inland Empire Labor Management Cooperation Committee—the group funding the trainings. Hudson began researching accidents involving first responders after conversations with a contact at the Inland Empire Burn Institute. She connected officials at the fire department with the JATC instructors to roll out the initial sessions.

"Shortly after our office established this program and delivered our first training, my phone started ringing off the hook with calls from a variety of first responders," Hudson said. "I've been in talks with police and sheriff's departments, other fire departments throughout the Inland Empire—many organizations want this type of training. It gives me additional opportunities to advocate for the IBEW/NECA partnership.

Local 440 Business Manager Bob Frost speaks highly of the trainers' expertise. "We've had such a great response, and our trainers have unique skills to pass along," he said. "For first responders, the information is vital for their safety and for the people they're trying to assist."

For more information, visit the LMCC's Web site at www.ielmcc.com.

Firefighters often face electrical hazards, so JATC instructors in California are helping local responders gin up their electrical knowledge.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user AMagill.