Working with first responders

While working as a police officer, Sam Molina regularly encountered electric safety issues on patrol, including downed power lines, car crashes into transformers and fires.

Now that he works as a utility safety supervisor, Molina trains first responders in communities served by UniSource Energy Services about how to keep members of the public – and themselves – safe around electricity.

“We try to make it safer for them to do their work,” Molina said. “There are so many things that can go wrong. We really work hard to communicate what the hazards are.”

Police, fire and volunteer patrol officers often are the first on scene when an electric outage, gas leak or other problem occurs – and not all of them know the safest way to respond. “We figured there was an educational piece missing,” Molina said.

That’s why UniSource employees conduct trainings at agencies throughout Arizona about electric and gas safety.

Molina started offering sessions at the training academies, in-service classes and debriefings. Molina usually leads the lessons, sometimes alongside UniSource crew members, about six times a year.

Molina understands the dilemmas that first responders face at scenes.

For example, firefighters might assume they should spray water on a substation fire, but that would only increase the potential for injuries. When a power pole falls on a car, first responders might want to immediately extract the passengers. However, it is safer for passengers to stay inside until the electricity is turned off. Or, an officer might want to try to move a power line if traffic is backed up.

“It’s very easy for us to become complacent around downed power lines,” said Deputy Chief Rusty Cooper of the Kingman Police Department. “The training reinforced the importance of not getting complacent about electrical safety.”

Jeffry Harran, Division Chief of Operations of the Lake Havasu City Fire Department, said the training helped reinforce the partnership with UniSource. Linemen accompanied Molina and used a mini display with live power lines to demonstrate the dangers of electricity.

“We got a good refresher in recognizing just how important it is to respect downed power wires and electricity,” Harran said. “When we do have fires, we often need to bring UniSource on the scene, and it’s good to build that relationship. It’s very beneficial.”

In addition to Molina’s trainings, UniSource gas employees conduct an annual tour of gas service territories to meet with first responders, as well as with contractors and excavators, to teach them about gas safety.

In late summer 2018, a total of 700 community members, including public and other gas utilities officials, attended sessions throughout the state.

During the day, tabletop exercises were held with first responders to go over possible situations during an emergency, like how to evacuate a subdivision and how to determine which way natural gas is blowing.

In the evenings, UniSource partnered with Arizona 811, which promotes safety of underground facilities, to hold informational dinners with contractors and excavators.

“It’s all about public safety and the integrity of our lines,” said Kevin Thomas, a UniSource Safety Specialist. “Educating our customers is a big part of what we do.”