I read with sadness a few weeks ago about a farmer in South Carolina who was killed when he raised his spray boom up and touched a power line. It wasn’t until he tried to get off his tractor that he was electrocuted. I’ve been around farming long enough to know it is a very dangerous occupation, but it’s doubly sad to know that this tragic accident could have been prevented.
As I ride past fields every day, I see power lines all around and often in the middle traveling to wells to run irrigation. So when I thought about writing on this topic, I contacted my local electricity provider, Central Florida Electric Cooperative, and asked about how to survive this type situation. The following is what I found out.
Electricity works a lot like a liquid in that, essentially, it wants to reach the lowest point. It really wants to reach the ground. When your tractor or spray boom is touching a power line, your tractor is now energized as if it were part of the line. The electricity would ground itself, except that rubber on the big tractor tires is not a good conductor. However, you are an excellent conductor.
The second you step off that tractor, holding the hand rails and touching the ground at the same time, you just became the best conductor, or the best route, for that electricity to reach the ground. The rubber soles of your boots are not enough to protect you and you will be electrocuted.
What should you do in this situation? Well, like everyone says, “don’t panic,” followed closely by “don’t get off your tractor,” which is often the first thought. If possible, lower your spray boom or whatever is touching the line and drive away from the line. On the tractor, you are protected by the rubber tires.
If it is not possible to lower the spray booms or equipment because the line has gotten hooked or tangled, then sit still, pull out your cell phone and call 9-1-1.
Tell them what has happened and that you are not moving until help arrives. Emergency services is well versed in what to do, and they will call the power company to assist and get you safely off the equipment and equipment off the line.
A last resort in this situation is to jump, free and clear, away from the tractor so as to not touch the ground and tractor at the same time, and, if possible, land with both feet together. Then, call emergency services and the power company will assist you in getting your equipment safely away from the line.
Electricity is essential in our lives, but it’s as deadly as any piece of equipment you work with. I hope you will remember this “survival” information should this ever happen to you.