Two lineworkers from Michigan’s Cherryland Electric Cooperative rushed to an accident scene to de-energize power lines after a school bus crashed into a power pole with students aboard.
“One of the scariest calls a lineworker can get is that there was a car vs. pole accident and someone is trapped inside,” said Dave Bott, a journeyman lineworker and crew foreman who arrived at the crash scene after a 911 dispatcher called the co-op to report the Jan. 8 accident, which pinned the driver inside the bus.
When Bott arrived, he saw that the bus had snapped the guy line wire, toppling the pole over onto the bus. He quickly warned first responders that the line could be energized and, within five minutes, he had isolated the damaged line from the main line, disconnected the meter at a nearby home and pushed the pole and a transformer off the bus.
That’s when apprentice lineworker Eric Brown arrived.
“When I got there, the bus was in the ditch and the pole and wires were on the ground,” Brown said. “There were firefighters and a mess of people all over the place. There were two or three firetrucks blocking the road, and kids had gotten off the bus.”
According to local news reports, there were six students from the local high school and middle school on the bus when the accident happened in Grand Traverse County as the bus was taking students home after 4 p.m. None of the kids was seriously injured, but the driver sustained leg injuries and had to be freed from the front of the bus, which was bashed in after it hit the power pole’s guy line and then slammed into a tree. The cause of the accident is under investigation.
“Dave noticed that rescue crews were kind of walking all over a downed power line, with no real certainty that it was dead,” Brown said.
Fortunately, Bott said, “the line tripped out like it’s designed to do.”
“It’s scary to think of a live line on an aluminum bus and how dangerous that could’ve been,” Bott said.
Bott and Brown tested and grounded the other wires to make sure that no one at the scene would be electrocuted and rescue crews could work safely.
As it turned out, the power pole and lines damaged in the crash belonged to the local investor-owned utility. The IOU has customers right across the street from the co-op consumer-members that Cherryland serves, so it was easy for the 911 dispatcher to confuse which utility owned the equipment, said Courtney Doyle, communications and member relations manager at the Grawn-based co-op.
“We have agreements in place with our local IOU and municipal utilities so that if there’s an emergency, and one of us has somebody qualified onsite, they can do what they need to do to make it safe,” she said.
Brown said he’s just glad that he and Bott were working nearby and could help.
“Honestly, I didn’t think much about what we did,” Brown said. “I was just worried about the kids, because I have two kids, and I was thinking about what would have happened if they had slammed into a power pole and a tree. We did what we needed to do to make it safe and then we left.”
Doyle said that what Bott and Brown did was critical to ensuring the safety of everyone at the accident scene.
“They didn’t think twice about whether it was our power pole that had been hit,” she said. “To them, it’s all our community. We’re just really proud of our team for always putting safety first, even when it’s not our lines.”
Erin Kelly is a staff writer for NRECA.