Good Samaritans are characterized as people who have the desire to help those in need. In addition to the desire to help, knowing how best to help in an emergency situation can make the difference between life and death. When electricity is involved in an accident, knowing the right steps to take could save the victim’s life as well as the Good Samaritan’s life.
In most situations, there are safeguards to keep us isolated from the dangers of electricity — such as high-voltage power lines elevated on poles or buried underground, insulated wires on tools and appliances, and ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) on outlets in locations where water and electricity might come together. However, through accidents, equipment failure, or poor decision making, our bodies can come in contact with electricity with tragic results.
In 2012, two women separately came upon the scene of an accident in the Los Angeles area where a driver had crashed into a fire hydrant and a power pole. Both women thought they could help the driver of the car. However, power lines were down which had energized the water from the fire hydrant that had pooled around the car. When the women approached the car, they unfortunately could not even save themselves.
“Your first instinct may be to render help as quickly as you can, but when electricity is involved, the wrong action could hurt or even kill you and others at the scene,” explains Matt Eisenmenger, a member of the Safe Electricity Advisory Board.
Electricity can be an unforeseen hazard, particularly when overhead power lines have fallen and made contact with vehicles, the ground, or anything that conducts electricity. The wire does not have to be sparking or arcing to be live. Therefore, always assume the power line is energized and never touch or approach it.
If you come upon an accident scene involving a vehicle and downed lines, stay back and warn others to stay away. Make sure the occupants of the car stay inside the vehicle until the utility has arrived to de-energize the lines.
In rare circumstances, the vehicle may catch fire. The only way the occupants can safely exit is to jump free and clear without touching the vehicle and ground at the same time. Advise them to jump and land with feet together, and then hop away to safety.
If you encounter any other accident situation in which you believe someone is in contact with electricity or has just suffered an electrical shock, here are some additional tips:
• Look first. Do NOT touch. The person may still be in contact with the electrical source and be energized. Touching the person may pass the current through you. If there are others nearby, make sure they do not touch the person either.
• Call, or have someone nearby call, 911 and the electric utility.
• Turn off the source of electricity — if known and if safely possible (i.e., circuit breaker or box). If you are not sure, wait for help from the emergency responders.
• Only once the source of electricity is OFF, check for signs of circulation (breathing, coughing, or movement). Provide any necessary first aid.
• Prevent shock. Lay the person down and, if possible, position the head slightly lower than the trunk of the body with the legs elevated.
• Do not move a person with an electrical injury unless the person is in immediate danger.
Anyone who has come into contact with electricity should see a doctor to check for internal injuries, even if he or she has no obvious signs or symptoms.
Remember, safety first. To learn more about electrical safety, visit SafeElectricity.org.