A job

Bill Packard: Wires down, people trapped... and the night half the county went dark

Sun, 04/01/2018 - 5:45pm

It was a heavy snowstorm that dumped a foot or more of snow and the town was just starting to dig out in the evening hours, not unlike the recent nor’easters we’ve experienced.  The call came for live wires down across a pickup truck in a remote area of town near the end of a dead end road. The main road was clear, but the two miles of side road were pretty tough sledding to get to the scene.

During this period, we were dispatched by the State Police and as I got close to the scene, they asked me to call on my cell so that they could connect me with the Central Maine Power headquarters in Augusta.

When I arrived, I found two people in a pickup truck who had been plowing a driveway. They had hit the power pole for the power entrance to the mobile home.  The entrance wires had become dislodged from the pole and fallen on the truck. 

I shared all this with the power company and they informed me that someone was on the way.  After speaking with the people in the truck, I shared with the power company that all was well.  There were no injuries and the occupants were not going anywhere until they got the all clear.

One thing we all know here in Maine is that it’s important to slow down if the roads are snow covered, so the responding power company guy was a little while getting there. 

Meantime, the fellow in Augusta was getting more and more impatient.  You know how it is when you’re waiting for water to boil or your computer to open a page, a minute or two seems like 15.  Well, the fellow at headquarters couldn’t wait any longer.  He told me he was going to shut the power off and to follow his instructions.  After it went dark, nobody was to get out of the truck until he gave the word.  I passed that on to everyone at the scene and we waited.  Remember, we were near the end of a dead end road about two miles off the highway so it was pretty dark, anyway.

Everything went dark and headquarters gave the word that it was safe to exit the vehicle.  It didn’t seem like it was that much later when the lineman arrived. He was livid!

At first I thought he was upset with me or something I had done, but soon I learned that the fellow at headquarters was the subject of his wrath. 

Despite being upset, he went right to work and took care of everything at the scene, so we secured. As I was driving back home it was clear that the power was out all along the road and that was no surprise. 

Out on the highway, it was the same thing and that seemed strange, but I know nothing about electricity or grids or any of that stuff, so I just headed home. 

At home several miles from the scene, we had no power.

We have a great mutual aid system in our county and part of what makes that work is firefighters all through the county monitor the radio traffic and this night was no exception. 

They heard that traffic between myself and the State Police, but the power company conversation was on a cell phone, so they didn’t hear that.

Turns out the Augusta power guy killed the power to over half the county. That’s right. Half the county lost power and guess whose fault it was?  Car 2.

Of course, I had no idea and no idea that everyone was talking about it. At the next county mutual aid meeting I became the unofficial guest of honor at a firefighter roast as the guy who made half the county go black for a residential drop on a pickup truck at the end of a dead end road miles off the highway.  Nobody there bought my explanation that it wasn’t me, it was the power company.

If there is one important thing you need to be comfortable with if you’re thinking of joining the fire service, is that you are going to get picked on.  You also will have chances to dish it out, too.

I often see firefighters share some sort of situation on social media and the non-firefighters will have comments like, “I’m so sorry you’re in the hospital” or “ sorry your car got wrecked” and firefighters will be piling it on like uncaring SOBs suggesting that the person is faking the illness or never could drive very well. 

The general public thinks the person has a terrible bunch of friends when in reality, they have a loving, extended family.  The family just has a unique way of expressing their love.  

What’s really important is that if a firefighter is truly in need that family will be there for him or her, giving everything they can, sometimes to people they don’t know or never met, in ways that you can’t even imagine.


More Bill Packard

Volunteer firefighting is one of the most rewarding, fun things anyone can do if they’re on a department with the right culture.  My hope is that these stories can create enough interest in even one person to join a local department and feel the satisfaction that comes from being a firefighter and understand what makes it so special.

Bill Packard lives in Union and is the founder of BPackard.com. He is a speaker, author, small business coach and consultant.


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