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Power Lines & Breaker Box’s

Upon arriving at an incident, whether it’s a working structure fire or a “possible structure fire”, there are many tasks to be completed.  Water supplies, size ups, 360’s, interior reports, and a whole host of other actions that need to be taken.  With that, we so often make entry into a structure to find the classic “odor of electrical” or some other smell of burning that would require further investigation.

In these situations, more often than not, a company will get assigned the task of locating the electrical service panel; otherwise known as the circuit breaker box or simply (the breaker box).  Upon getting this assignment, God only knows what you’ll be greeted with after descending the stairs to the basement where the panel is likely located.  Will you find a pristine basement with views of all four walls and the breaker panel clear as day, or will you be presented with mountains of boxes lining every square inch of the walls? More often than not you will be presented with the latter.  I’m not sure about you; anything my family doesn’t use regularly gets stashed away downstairs in the basement. When assigned to utility control, encountering these cluttered basements creates a recipe for a difficult time locating the service panel. 

Fear not.  There is a way to avoid crashing our air packs into mountains of boxes and endlessly searching for the service panel.  It may seem extremely simple to some, yet eye opening to others.  Upon getting off of the apparatus, all you need to do is “Look Up”.

From the street where the utility poles and power lines run, the overhead service line comes off the power lines and into the house. Once the service line reaches the house, it enters the weather head, proceeds down the service mast/conduit, through the electric meter and finally into the house.  Almost always, the service panel will be extremely close to where the service is coming into the structure.  Note:  Sometimes in older houses or in cases of slab concrete, the service panel isn’t in the basement but on a living floor.  With this said, the same should hold true with the service line being relatively close to the service panel.

You don’t have to be an officer making the 360 to note the location of the service line. Most times, simply glance up at the Alpha/Bravo or Alpha/Delta Corners. By taking a quick look up prior to entering the structure, you will know what side/area of the basement to start looking.  If you made your way into the hoarder style basement without taking note, as long as there isn’t any pressing radio communications occurring, ask the IC on the exterior of the structure, “What corner is the service line coming in?”

This may seem simple and obvious to some, but to others who may be younger or newer to the fire service, maybe not?  On occasion, taking note of the service lines location prior to entering the structure will save you and your crew time, frustration, and prevent bulls from roaming every square inch of the china shop.

Adam J. Hansen

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