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The Mary Gehrig story: Downed Power Line Safety

Seventeen-year-old Mary Gehrig was driving home from a friend’s house on a stormy June night. Around 25 minutes into her 30-minute drive, Gehrig turned onto the county road that would take her home. Although there was near-zero visibility due to the storm that turned much more severe than originally forecast, she noticed two white lines off into the distance. As she got closer, she realized that those lines were across the road, in her path, and that they were anything but small.

Gehrig slammed on the brakes and her car struck the object, which happened to be one of two high-voltage transmission power lines lying in the road. The massive cable stopped Mary’s car in its tracks. The car’s electrical system was damaged, and she was stuck there alone during the storm.

Fire chief Rich Schock, who was on the scene that night, said, “Those are large transmission lines with a lot of volts in them,” adding that the outcome could have been fatal had Mary gotten out. “Mary did everything right,” he said.

When there is an accident involving downed power lines, a padmount transformer or other related equipment, Safe Electricity offers these safety tips:

  • Call 9-1-1 and report that a downed line or other electrical equipment is involved.
  • Do not get out of the vehicle until electric utility workers say it is safe to exit.
  • Warn those involved in the accident to stay put and alert others who might approach to stay back.

Exiting the vehicle is a last resort and should only be attempted if the car is on fire or giving off smoke. If this is the case, exit the vehicle by crossing your arms and jumping from the vehicle without touching it. Then, hop with both feet together as far as you can.

This video is made possible by members of EEC-Safe Electricity. We appreciate their support in enhancing safety awareness and making this copyrighted video viewable to individuals visiting SafeElectricity.org. For non-members interested in using this video, please contact info@safeelectricity.org. Use of this work without permission, including its reproduction, distribution, or display constitutes copyright infringement.

Safe Electricity is the award-winning, public awareness program of the Energy Education Council, a 501(c) 3 (not-for-profit organization) established in 1952 on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With offices located in Springfield, Ill., Safe Electricity operates under the University of Illinois Extension and is led by the EEC Board of Directors. Since the Safe Electricity program was created in 2001, it has provided thousands of safety-minded resources to its more than 500 utility members from across the country to help save lives and reduce injuries.