Safe on the bus
On an April morning in 2016, Clint Shults was driving a school bus to take students to an FFA competition in Rangely, Colorado. The team’s horse judging coach, Silvia Otabachian-Smith, followed the bus in her car. Heavy, wet snow had been accumulating, and the bus snagged a power line just as it was falling to the ground under the weight of the snow.
"I kind of saw a flash, noticing that the snow had fallen off of one of the power lines," recounts Shults. "We started dragging power lines for the next at least 100 yards and knew we were in pretty tough shape."
"I told my wife to call 911, … and we had everyone remain on the bus," Shults says.
From behind the bus, Otabachian-Smith witnessed several bursts of fire. Her first thought was to get out of her car and check that the students were unharmed. Luckily, one of the students called her and told her to stay in her car.
"There is such a thing as step voltage, that even though the wire is on the ground, as you walk into that scene, you could be stepping into different voltage variations and injure yourself," explains Sheriff Anthony Mazzola, first responder on the scene.
Everyone on the bus and first responders waited for a utility employee to arrive and ensure the downed power line was de-energized before anyone stepped off the bus or onto the accident scene.
Safe Electricity and Valley Rural Electric Cooperative want you to know the steps to take to stay safe if you are in a vehicle that comes into contact with a downed line or power pole.
- Stay calm, and stay inside the vehicle.
- Call 9-1-1.
- Warn others to stay away from the vehicle.
- Stay seated, and do not exit the vehicle until utility personnel say it is okay to do so.
- If you must exit the vehicle because it is on fire, jump clear of it with your feet together and without touching the vehicle and ground at the same time. Keeping your feet together, shuffle or "bunny hop" to safety.
For other chaperones who travel with students and might encounter a downed power line, Shults urges, "Do not tell any young person or any passenger to get off the bus."
"Electricity is invisible, and there is no way to determine visually if a wire is energized," explains Frank Sampson, manager of operations at White River Electric Association (Meeker, Colo.). "Never assume that a wire has or doesn't have electricity in it because you can't see it. You can only see the effect of it, and it travels at the speed of light. It's extremely destructive and exceedingly fast."
After 26 years in law enforcement, Sheriff Mazzola knows the importance of electrical safety education, "Everybody needs to know what electricity can do, and we all need to be aware of it."
Article and image courtesy of SafeElectricity.org. with modifications by Valley Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc.