First Responder Safety

There are many safety hazards confronting first responders (i.e., police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel) when they arrive on the scene of an emergency. Private citizens also may become first responders. Energized electric lines and equipment are a primary concern, along with hazards posed by natural gas leaks. Risks can be lessened by applying some basic safety principles.

Visit our site for additional materials on first responder safety.

Electric Wires

  • Downed Lines — An ice storm, windstorm, tornado, forest fire or flood can bring down power lines by the hundreds. A car accident also may snap a utility pole and drop a power line. If you see a power line on the ground, don't assume that it is insulated. Stay at least 30 feet away from the wire and secure the area to keep others away, too. Remember that electricity can pass from an energized source through a victim. If a rescuer touches the victim, the rescuer also can become a victim. (Read more about downed lines.)
  • Notify the Utility — Contact the local utility and have trained personnel respond to the scene. Never attempt to handle wires yourself unless you are properly trained and equipped.
  • Control Traffic — If possible, set out flares and stop or reroute traffic. Keep spectators away (at least 100 feet). After dark, light the scene as well as you can by directing headlights or spotlights on the broken or fallen wires. Metal or cable guard-rails, steel fences and telephone lines all may be energized by a fallen wire.
  • Protect Yourself — During any rescue attempt, never rely on rubber boots, raincoats, rubber gloves or ordinary wire cutters for protection from electricity. Don't touch (or allow your clothing to contact) a wire, victim or vehicle that may be energized.

Natural Gas

Be observant for leaks. Although leaks on natural gas pipelines are rare, be observant for dirt or water being ejected in the air, dead or dying vegetation (in an otherwise normal area) over or near pipeline areas, flames coming from the ground or appearing to burn just above the ground, a roaring, blowing or hissing sound near a pipeline, or a distinct odor of natural gas.

Fortunately, natural gas is lighter than air, and thus, can dissipate into the air rapidly, making accidental combustion difficult. To further prevent accidents, natural gas has a very high ignition temperature, at about 1100 degrees Fahrenheit. This is nearly twice the ignition temperature for gasoline. These factors make accidental ignition or combustion of natural gas less likely. However, high concentrations of gas in a confined space may increase the danger of an explosion if triggered by a spark or flame.

If you smell gas:

  • Do not attempt to locate gas leaks.
  • Do not remain in any building when there is a strong gas odor.
  • Avoid sparks — do not operate any electrical switches, appliances or lights or unplug electrical appliances when there is a strong gas odor.
  • Do not use telephones or elevators in the area of a strong gas odor.
  • Do not position or operate vehicles and power equipment where leaking gas may be present.
  • Do not smoke or use lighters, matches or other open flames.
  • Contact the local utility and have trained personnel respond to the scene to investigate.
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