A PUD lineman lowers a human dummy down a utility pole during a pole top rescue demonstration on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A PUD lineman lowers a human dummy down a utility pole during a pole top rescue demonstration on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In summer heat, Snohomish County PUD trains for winter storms

The PUD showcased how dangerous high-voltage power lines can be — and urged caution — at a demonstration Thursday.

ARLINGTON — It was one of the hottest days this summer, but the Snohomish County Public District spent Thursday preparing for winter storms.

At the new Arlington Microgrid, PUD employees showcased how dangerous high-voltage power lines can be and how to rescue an incapacitated person on a power pole.

Slade Wills, a seasoned trainer and linesman, said in his 26 years at the PUD, none of his coworkers have ever had to be rescued or had a fatality because of electrical contact.

PUD lineman shows an electric arc during the high voltage trailer demonstration on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

PUD lineman shows an electric arc during the high voltage trailer demonstration on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Safety was the common theme. Around one-tenth of an amp can kill a human.

“The last year, few years, the severity of our storms has increased dramatically,” Kellie Stickney, a PUD spokesperson, said in a presentation Thursday. “That can create complicated situations for restoration.”

Before crews go out to fix lines after a storm, they have what’s called a “tailboard.” Essentially, it’s a safety talk. It tells them what hazards to expect and what information they have.

Employees work long hours — up to 40-hour shifts — to get the power back on, Stickney said. Winter holidays often mean more work.

“Honestly my crew is like my family, I’ve spent more Christmases with them than I have with my family,” Wills said. “I enjoy it, I like giving back to the community and just helping it grow.”

During large power outages, hospitals, fire stations and other essential public services are restored first. In order to do that, the utility has to determine where the issue is and what resources will be required to fix it. This is when they often need the public’s help in identifying outages and downed or damaged power lines.

PUD lineman Steve Ingrum shows the danger of fallen live wires during the high voltage trailer demonstration on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

PUD lineman Steve Ingrum shows the danger of fallen live wires during the high voltage trailer demonstration on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A new program called Connect Up plans to replace all 330,000 analog meters in Snohomish County over the next few years with digital meters — and those will let the utility know if power has gone out.

The PUD suggests having a “Plan B” for basic needs. A generator is good, but never bring it inside. Same for outdoor heaters. Flashlights and battery-powered lanterns are also preferred over candles, which can be a fire risk.

And never, ever go near a downed power line. Don’t even try to clear nearby branches. A high-voltage demonstration fried a hot dog in seconds. The charred meat is a rough representation of what happens to people when they touch a live wire.

“There’s nothing in our system designed to make you safe,” said Kevin Davis, a PUD safety specialist. “Our system is designed to protect itself.”

The utility also offers an opt-in text system that sends updates during outages.

The sun shines on the PUD’s Arlington Microgrid on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The sun shines on the PUD’s Arlington Microgrid on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Davis also noted firehoses and water can conduct electricity, showing a short video of a ladder truck fighting a fire over active power lines.

Halfway through the video, the water caused the lines to flame up. PUD is often called in to shut down power when fires break out in Snohomish County.

Storms are a major cause of damaged power lines, but the biggest cause of power outages in Snohomish County is actually squirrels and birds.

“There are certain times of the year where the squirrels are all suicidal,” said Nic Belisle, a lineman with PUD. “It’s pretty wild.”

Wildfires caused by power lines are also a concern. The PUD is putting up what are essentially smart circuit breakers that trip if a tree — or something else — hits a line deep in the forest.

“They’re newer technology, so we’re still working on it, but we’re getting them into the system,” Wills said. “It’s taken very seriously.”

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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