Archive for September, 2012

IL: More SMART Meter Fires

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Illinois:  In June 2010, Shirley Bayliff was sitting at the piano in her suburban Illinois home, giving music lessons to a student, when she heard a “pop” outside the house before the power went out.  When she and her husband looked out the window, they saw five-foot flames shooting out from a new General Electric smart meter their utility company had installed as part of a pilot project. “Very, very scary,” she told Crain’s Chicago Business newspaper.

Apparently Bayliff isn’t the only who got a surprise from her smart meter.  Since then, two more of the 130,000 smart meters Commonwealth Edison installed in the area have burst into elecetric fires, one in 2011 and one this last July, according to the newspaper.

ComEd recently disclosed the fires, as well as information about 15 other overheating incidents that caused damage to smart meters, only after another utility in Philadelphia, Peco Energy, decided to suspend installation of smart meters there following a fire in a home and a dozen incidents involving overheating smart meters.


In the Philadelphia case, a neighbor called the fire department on a Sunday morning after hearing a pop and seeing sparks and flames shooting out from the meter of another house.

Overheating problems with smart meters have also been reported in Maryland by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. All three utility companies are owned by the Exelon Corp, based in Illinois.

ComEd described the incidents in Illinois as “small fires.” But Bayliff, whose meter caught fire just 71 days after ComEd installed it, says the flames would have burned down her house if the meter hadn’t been installed on a brick wall.

“We saw huge flames,” Bayliff told the newspaper. “Luckily, there wasn’t much damage because (the house) was brick … When the firemen arrived, the lieutenant said if we lived in a wood house they’d be ripping off the shingles and hosing down the attic right now.”

ComEd denied the fire was caused by the meter and blamed the combustion on faulty house wiring where the meter was installed, which the company said was Bayliff’s problem. ComEd said faulty wiring was behind a second fire as well. The third reported fire is still under investigation.

The utility refused to pay the $2,900 in damages to Bayliff’s house – which included a melted window screen and the cost of replacing the wiring – but relented after Bayliff threatened to make it a public safety issue.

“Once I got their attention, they were very accommodating,” she told the paper.

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NY: Barn Destroyed by Electrical Fire

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

East Hampton, NY:  Investigators believe the cause of a fire that nearly destroyed a commercial barn on Long Lane is electrical.  East Hampton Town Fire Marshal Tom Baker said on Friday morning that he traced the source of the fire to the electrical panel. There are three main leads that went into the building, he said. “Three to five feet of wiring — we don’t know where it is. It just vaporized.”

The fire marshal’s office is now looking into what could have caused the sudden electrical fire.  “It’s something we’ve seen before,” Baker said. About a year ago, at a house on Windmill Lane, part of the copper wiring just blasted apart. “It’s pretty remarkable.”  Firefighters from at least three departments were on scene at 168 Long Lane for more than three hours after the initial call on Thursday at about 1 p.m. Two of those hours were spent fighting flames that had traveled into the eaves of the barn and were difficult to reach.

The building was used as a garage and office space for J&R Landscaping. Baker said he spoke to the owners, who reported no problems with the electrical, such as sudden dimming, flickering or outages.  No one was on the property when the fire broke out. A firefighter driving by saw the smoke and discovered the barn was on fire.”There’s quite a bit of landscaping between the building and road,” Baker said, adding that the fire went from the electrical panel, traveling inside the wall. “It can stay concealed for a while,” he said. “It was pretty rapid in terms of what it did, in terms of moving.”

East Hampton Fire Department Chief Tom Bono said on Thursday that the fire had been a difficult one to reach. Baker agreed. He said there were many plantings that were up close to the barn on one side, while on another side there were wire cages for trees, and on the third side there was a pre-fab tent. An old burned truck was sitting in front of the building, he said.  Smoke detectors were set off inside the barn, and were still going off when firefighters arrived, but they were not hooked to an alarm company to notify the fire department, according to Baker.  The fire marshal said the second floor sustained most of the damage. Some landscaping equipment on the ground floor was salvageable.  Baker said the fire department was called back out for a fire that rekindled there at about 6:45 p.m., but that it was due to several bundles of burlap, for covering greenery in the winter. “That type of material will just sit and smolder.”

The department also had to lay 3,000 feet of hose to the nearest hydrant to get water to its tower ladder to douse the barn with and get to the flames shooting through the roof.  Asked if the area needs more hydrants, the fire marshal said he thinks it may be that the road needs a bigger water main. “They do have a series of hydrants and electric wells. It’s something I’m sure the fire chief will take up. If he feels the area needs more, he’ll ask for it.”  Baker said the activity in the commercial farming area, just a mile or so from East Hampton High School, has grown over the years. “I remember when it was just fields without the buildings.”

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NJ: Sparta Train Station Destroyed in Electrical Fire

September 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Sparta, NJ: The electrical fire that destroyed the historic, 130-year-old Sparta Train Station has been determined to be “not suspicious.”  Investigators have determined that an electrical panel box located on the outside of the building was a contributing factor, according to Sparta Police Sgt. John-Paul Beebe.

The joint investigation is being conducted by Sparta police Detective Sgt. John Schanstra and Detective Jason Garrigan of the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office Arson Unit.  The fire was reported at 3:49 a.m. on Sept. 3 by a motorist who saw the flames while traveling north on Route 15, police said. Sparta police were at the station within three minutes of the call, but by then the building was already engulfed in flames.

Firefighters from the Sparta and Ogdensburg fire departments battled the blaze for approximately an hour and a half before finally clearing from the scene at 7:20 a.m., police said.  Built by the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway in 1882, the Sparta station served numerous dairy farms and Sparta’s Ideal Creamery Co. Sparta’s mail was delivered by train to the station, as was everything from coal and ice to cement, according to Beebe.

The station was the last of the 15 stations that were built by the railway in Sussex County. Its water tank, which was not affected by the fire, is the only one left in the county and one of the few left in the state, Beebe said.

The area in which the train station was located has been going through a rebirth after years of neglect, according to Beebe, who said the adjacent property was part of the A.O. Polymer Superfund site that was sold by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to Station Holdings on Feb. 19, 2009. This property now houses the new Sparta Police Athletic League building, Beebe said.

The train station, which also is owned by Station Holdings, was currently being renovated and had just gotten a new roof, and other repairs were under way, Beebe said.

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OK: Evacuation at School for Electrical Fire

September 12, 2012 Leave a comment

COLBERT, OK — Hundreds of students were evacuated for a short time this morning because of a small electrical fire.

Authorities said the fire happened around 9:30 a.m. on the back side of the old middle school. Some electrical wires on the outside of the wall shorted out and started burning.

About 600 students were evacuated from the building, which houses seventh through twelfth grade classes, and the elementary school.

Colbert firefighters were able to put the fire out quickly and no one was hurt.

“We were worried first of all about the kids,” says Colbert assistant fire chief Jonathan Horn. “The school was on fire when we got here. They were all out on the ball court which was a good sign.”

The students were moved to other classrooms until the power can be restored.

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SD: Electrical Fire Destroys Wounded Knee Museum

September 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Wall, SD:  An electrical fire has destroyed the 10-year-old Wounded Knee Museum in Wall, dedicated to the 1890 massacre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The building is 80 percent wiped out, and the 30 exhibits inside the 2,600-square-foot structure are a total loss after the fire Sunday night.

“It’s like a parent losing a child, that is how we are feeling right now,” Steve Wyant, the museum co-founder, said Thursday.  Wyant couldn’t put an estimate on the building and museum’s cost. He expects a full report from fire officials to detail the cause more specifically.

Opened in 2003 off Interstate 90, Wyant said he created the museum “to promote tolerance and understanding and share the story of what occurred at the Wounded Knee Massacre.”  Wall fire officials determined that faulty wiring beneath the floor started the blaze long after visitors and Wyant were gone for the day, he said.

The museum detailed the events of Dec. 29, 1890, when the U.S. Army demanded the surrender from the Lakota. Amid the tension, a shot rang out. The soldiers opened fire, killing up to 300 men, women and children. Some died instantly, but others may have died from hypothermia.

Wyant, 67, lives in Fort Collins, Colo., and has no Native American heritage but found inspiration for the museum after visiting the site and reading the telling account of the massacre in the book “The Politics of Hallowed Ground,” written by Rapid City attorney Mario Gonzalez.

“It was more a learning of what occurred and then realizing nobody was going to provide a venue to share the story,” he said.

Wyant hired contractors for the building, writers, researchers and graphic designers for the exhibits. He charged a $5 admission and regularly let school children in at no cost. He never made enough money to cover expenses, nor did he expect he would, relying instead on donations and fundraising. He covered the rest out of his own pocket.

“If you didn’t see it, it was a beautiful thing to see,” he said.

About 7,000 to 8,000 people visited each year between May and October. This year had been the best year yet, with visitor numbers up 40 percent in August, he said.

“This year was the most excited I have seen him and heard him; he was really upbeat about this year,” said Daryl No Heart, Wyant’s friend who with his wife did printing and graphic design for the museum. “There is so much work he put into this. God, I can’t believe that it would end. He was in high spirits and looking forward to moving on with the museum and adding more things.”

No Heart remembers Wyant coming to him with his idea, and it was clear he had a “mountain to climb.”

“We worked with Steve and we had seen what he was doing, and my first impression was why would a white man be doing that?” No Heart said. “We thought he wouldn’t have a chance, but he was pretty stubborn.”

Wyant remembers days in the first year when one or two people would visit on a given day.

“When we opened in 2003, we didn’t know if anyone would show up,” he said.

Though too emotional to make any decisions about future plans, he said his resolve remains.

“We are more determined and more passionate than ever to deliver the story to the world.”

Story via Rapid City Journal

ME: Crash Causes Power Surge, Ignites Down East Community Hospital

September 12, 2012 Leave a comment

MACHIAS, Maine — Daniel Snowdeal, 48, of Jonesboro was charged Tuesday with leaving the scene of a property damage accident after a vehicle he is suspected of driving crashed into a utility pole on Court Street in Machias on Monday night, triggering a power surge that sparked an electrical fire at the Down East Community Hospital.

The surge, at approximately 9:30 p.m. Monday, filled the radiology wing of the 25-bed hospital with smoke, but none of the patients needed to be evacuated, according to Machias Fire Chief Joey Dennison.

Hospital spokesperson Julie Hixson said Tuesday no patients were affected by the fire. The radiology department, she said, used portable technology while electricians worked Tuesday to restore power to in-house equipment. The hospital relied on its emergency backup generators for almost 12 hours, with power being restored at about 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Hixson said the cost of damages had not been estimated.

The accident remains under investigation by the Machias Police Department.

Story via Bangor Daily News

SC: Man Electrocuted

September 12, 2012 Leave a comment

UNION, S.C. — South Carolina authorities are investigating the electrocution of a North Carolina man who died in a utility accident this week.

Thomas Brian Gibson, 47, of Aberdeen was killed late Wednesday while working on an electrical box in the Buffalo community of Union County.

Deputy Coroner John Fallaw says Gibson unresponsive when emergency crews arrived.

Fallaw said he did not know if the worker was employed by the company that serves the area, Lockhart Power, or a utility subcontractor.

Story via The Rocky Mount Telegram

VA: Construction Worker Critically Injured (19,900 Volts)

September 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Henrico County, VA:  A construction worker was badly injured this morning when he came in contact with a powerful electrical line while on a job in western Henrico County.

Henrico Fire & EMS Capt. Jim Mellon said the victim, who is in his mid 20s, was in critical condition when he was taken to VCU Medical Center.

Mellon said authorities were called at 9:14 a.m. after the construction worker was moving a piece of scaffolding and came in contact with a power line while at a job site in the 1600 block of Harborough Road, a short distance south of Mills Godwin High School.

The power line was transmitting 19,900 volts of electricity, Mellon said.

More than 100 Dominion Virginia Power customers lost electricity as a result of the accident, Mellon said.

Story via Richmond Times Dispatch

Verizon Makes Notorious OSHA SVEP List with Worker Electrocution

September 5, 2012 Leave a comment

The Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) was created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2010 with a promise of getting tough on employers who have not honored their employee’s safety and health and OSHA’s direction.

By all indications the SVEP is doing just that.

As of this June, OSHA reported that 332 of the nation’s employers have found their way onto OSHA’s SVEP list. SVEP concentrates on inspecting employers that have demonstrated indifference to their Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) obligations by willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate workplace violations. Employers that have been identified as severe violators can expect heightened inspection rates and increased fines when additional occupational safety and health violations occur.

Some of the nation’s largest corporations, such as Verizon, Tyson Foods, Wegman’s and Cooper Tire & Rubber, all have the dishonor of being a members of this exclusive club. On March 19, Verizon became a member of SVEP after a worker came into contact with high-voltage electrical wires in Brooklyn, New York. OSHA says that this electrocution was preventable.

During OSHA’s investigation (#315915249), the agency cited Verizon with repeat offenses, such as failure to provide personal protective equipment like rubber gloves for workers exposed to high voltage. Verizon was also not providing employees with electrial safety training or safe practices for working around high voltage power lines. In addition, Verizon was not keeping accurate occupational safety and health records, and it appears that Verizon was cooking the books by reporting a fatality as an injury on OSHA Form 300.

Consistent violators of the OSH Act belong in a program such as the SVEP, as their own fraudulent actions have won them this special recognition. Workers in the United States should not have to tolerate such inappropriate activity from their employers, and the SVEP shines light on industries’ bad actors.

It is also important to point out the external effect SVEP will have on employers when they learn the details of the program. Increased fines and targeted inspections could scare industry straight into upholding its obligations under the OSH Act. We hope they are paying attention.

Unfortunately, OSHA is now offering habitual offenders of the OSH Act a pathway out of the SVEP. According to OSHA, an employer may be considered for removal from the program by an OSHA Regional Administrator after:

  • A period of three years from the date of the final disposition of the SVEP inspection citation items including: failure to contest, settlement agreement, Review Commission final order, or court of appeals decision.
  • All affirmed violations have been abated, all final penalties have been paid, and the employer has abided by and completed all settlement provisions, and has not received any additional serious citations related to the hazards identified in the SVEP inspection at the initial establishment or at any related establishments.

The SVEP program has been a step in the right direction, and will hold habitual violators like Verizon accountable to the OSH Act, at least for three years. Three years on the SVEP list, however, is not enough, even with the programs increased fines and oversight. Employers should have to recommit themselves to training employees best practices and demonstrate comprehensive plans of action to mitigate potential hazards at the very least. A bold step for OSHA would be to pursue SVEP participants in criminal court.

Changing employers’ attitudes regarding occupational safety and health has been a constant battle in the United States. OSHA has been engaged in this fight for more than 40 years. One would hope that employers someday will realize that workers are more productive under safe working conditions, and programs like SVEP will not be necessary. But for now, OSHA should keep bad actors on the list.

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OH: Precison Steel Slapped with $66,330 in OSHA Fines

September 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Toledo, OH:  It is reported that a Toledo based steel processor has been slapped with $66,330 in proposed penalties by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

According to the labor department, Precision Steel Services Inc had 11 safety violations, including a repeat violation for failing to remove from service a forklift that was in need of repair.

Mr Kimberly Nelson, OSHA’s area director in Toledo, in a statement said that “OSHA takes all safety and health violations very seriously. However, repeat violations, in particular, indicate a lack of commitment to these issues, and OSHA will hold employers responsible to ensure that workers are protected from preventable hazards.”

According to OSHA, a repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. Similar violations were cited in 2009 at the same facility.

Nine serious violations issued to Precision Steel Services include failing to protect workers from falls on elevated workspaces, provide lock out and tag out procedures, properly inspect forklifts, ensure forklift brakes were set when parked, provide electrical safe work training and utilize electrical personal protective equipment.

OSHA explained in their news release that a serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Precision Steel Services was also cited for failing to mark lock out and tag out devices with an employee identifier, considered other than serious violation.

OSHA has inspected Precision Steel Services five times, three of which occurred since 2009 and resulted in citations for seven serious violations involving personal protective equipment, forklifts, mechanical equipment in disrepair and a lack of guarding on portable power tools.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its most recent citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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