Morgantown, WV: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, FACE 98-F31, 1999 Jan; :1-5
Two male career fire fighters, ages 27 and 46 years old (the victims) were electrocuted when the aluminum extension ladder they were positioning against a church contacted an overhead powerline. A painting contractor who had been hired by the local church to paint it discovered that the ladders they were using were not long enough to reach the upper section of the church. The contractor talked with a church representative about the problem, and the representative made a request through city hall for the fire department to provide an aerial truck so that the painters could finish painting the church. After receiving a call from city hall, the fire department Chief surveyed the job at the church and determined that an extension ladder could be used to finish the painting. A crew of four fire fighters and one Captain were dispatched to deliver a 36-foot aluminum extension ladder to the church. After delivering the ladder, the crew decided to help raise and position the ladder since it was heavy and cumbersome for the two painters to handle. After several attempts were made to raise and position the ladder, it was still out of position and had to be moved again. The ladder was raised about 35 feet, its top was placed against the side of the church, and its feet were set on the ground directly under a single phase of an overhead powerline, which was 34 feet 3 inches above the ground. The crew attempted to reposition the ladder. One fire fighter was grasping the halyard (rope), while the remaining three fire fighters and Captain steadied the ladder and pulled it back to a vertical position. As the ladder was being repositioned, the top of the ladder contacted the 7,620-volt overhead powerline. Electrical current passed through the ladder, and through the fighters and the Captain who were in contact with the ladder, to the ground. The Captain and three fire fighters were knocked to the ground, and the remaining fire fighter who was holding the halyard was uninjured. The uninjured fire fighter ran to the Engine and called 911 for assistance. The Police Department heard the call and dispatched personnel to the scene. Police personnel arrived in 2 minutes, and along with the uninjured fire fighter, started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). An ambulance arrived shortly thereafter, paramedics continued CPR, and they transported the victims to a local hospital. About 1 hour later the Captain and one fire fighter were pronounced dead, and the two injured fire fighters were hospitalized. NIOSH investigators concluded that, to prevent similar occurrences, fire departments should: Identify potential hazards and appropriate safety interventions in the planning phase of work projects. Eliminate the use of conductive ladders in proximity to energized electrical conductors (powerlines). Additionally, ladder manufacturers should consider: Incorporating non-conductive materials in the manufacture of aluminum ladders.