Feb. 19, 2020 — Accidents can happen at any time, sometimes with deadly consequences. One of the most serious of these types of accidents occurs when an individual is electrocuted due to contact with a live power line or hit by a lightning strike. As with many things, knowing what to do in the case of an emergency is often the best way to avoid serious injury or death.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that electrocution claims 1,000 lives a year, with the majority caused by high-voltage accidents.
These type of deadly accidents often take place at a construction site but do occur in unexpected settings, such as a car accident or a fire.
This proved to be the case for one Florence-area family on the last day of 2019, when Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue Capt. Liz Iabichello received a call to respond to a vehicle accident just outside town on North Fork Road.
Upon arrival, she was confronted by a major incident in which a Ford SUV had hit a telephone pole head-on, knocking it to the ground below.
“This full-size Excursion heading east left the roadway and completely took down a power pole and all lines attached,” Iabichello said. “This was a major line supplying power to the area. I think it was three high voltage lines. Two had broken and one was still connected.”
The vehicle came to a stop about 20 feet down a ditch in thick mud, tangling into a barbed wire fence. The air bags deployed since the front of the vehicle had significant intrusion and passenger side damage from splitting the pole off at the base.
“Upon my arrival, the husband had already come from home and was on the road, in the westbound lane and talking to his wife, who was the driver of the Excursion,” Iabichello said. “She had tried to get out of the vehicle and was talking to him. I stopped and requested he move his vehicle to the next pole east.”
When Iabichello advised the occupants to remain in the vehicle, “The man responded, ‘My and kids are in the car!’”
Iabichello told them that the power lines were still on.
“‘She must get back in the vehicle,’ I said. I kept her in the front and the three kids in the back seat by explaining how dangerous it is and that they were safer in the vehicle.”
Central Lincoln People’s Utility District (CLPUD) is responsible for Florence’s power lines. It has worked in the past with local first responders to prepare firefighters and emergency response teams for an electrically based emergency situation.
CLPUD Public Affairs Manager Chris Chandler was pleased that information shared with first responders during training was central to the successful rescue of the trapped family.
According to Central Lincoln Safety Coordinator Cody Christian, “People can’t tell if a line is energized by looking at it. Please stay a minimum of 30 feet away from a downed line, and don’t drive underneath sagging lines. If a line falls on your car, stay in the car until a utility worker arrives with the right equipment to handle the situation. If you try getting out of the car, you could be badly injured or even killed.”
In the wake of the successful rescue the daughter of the driver, Eve Stidham, shared her appreciation of the work done by Iabichello and the team from SVFR in a moving letter that was read aloud to Siuslaw Valley’s Board of Directors:
Dear Siuslaw Valley Fire Department,
Thank you for helping me and my family after our car wreck on Dec. 31, 2019. You guys responded so quickly and got us out of there as quickly as possible. I never realized how important first responders were until I got in the accident. You guys worked on New Year’s Eve just to help me and my family.
And this to the nice lady who was helping my mom calm down — thank you. My mom was hysterical and that made me cry. You helping my mom also helped me. I love my mom so much, and that made me cry.
Thanks to you guys I got to go home and see my puppy. Also, thanks to you guys I got to have my 14th birthday and I get to keep living. Thank you so much you guys, I really appreciate it.
At a ceremony on Feb. 18, members of Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue, Florence Police Department and the Stidham family were presented with CLPUD “Challenge” coins by Christian. CLPUD elected to recognize the teamwork and community support for the first responders who responded to accident.
“You have no idea how much this means,” Iabichello said. “It’s community helping community.”