Safety Minute: Don’t become the path for an electric current

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A new feature from Safety and Environmental Compliance Specialist David Young

Safety Minute is a new, regular feature from Safety and Environmental Compliance Specialist David Young. Young started at WEC in 2022 after 19 years at Vermont Electric Cooperative. He’s specialized in safety for nine years. WEC, which has received multiple awards for its safety record, is a great fit for Young, who’s enthusiastic not just about preserving the safety of WEC workers and contractors but also educating members. Young lives in Johnson and is the father of four active kids: he’s involved in youth sports year-round.

Members can request safety presentations from Young for their school, organization, or community group. Contact him at 802-224-2340 or

Early this spring, two individuals were working on a Saturday to cut down an enormous pine tree. Part of the tree fell on WEC power lines.

The line tripped off twice – that’s a standard safety measure – but it ended up reenergizing. Even if it seems that the power is out, it is possible for a dangerous potential to remain in the wires. The broken wires, arcing on the ground, started a brush fire, and the current turned the sand in the right-of-way to glass.

This happened at a time that our region was at high fire risk. One member went to get a fire extinguisher with the aim of putting out the brush fire. When lineworkers arrived to shut off the line, the individual was operating the fire extinguisher 15 feet away from the energized and arcing wires. That’s dangerously close.

This story could have easily had a tragic ending. Fortunately, no one was injured, and no catastrophic damage was caused.

  1. Don’t go within 50 feet of a downed power line. Always assume that a downed line is energized. That energy is seeking a path, and that path could be you. There’s voltage in the ground that can cross from one leg to the other. This is called “step potential.”
  2. If an object is touching a power line, do not approach it. Call WEC. A tree has enough moisture and mineral content to conduct electricity. If you touch it, the high voltage could pass through you. This is called “touch potential.” 
  3. If a fire starts due to a downed power line, call the fire department, and then the utility as soon as you can.