RMU constructs, utilizes trailer to educate community on electrical safety

The Rochelle Municipal Utilities electric department constructed a trailer in 2022 that has helped it to educate the community on electrical safety, RMU Superintendent of Electric Operations Blake Toliver said.

‘If we can save one life, it's worth every penny we've put into it’

ROCHELLE — The Rochelle Municipal Utilities electric department constructed a trailer in 2022 that has helped it to educate the community on electrical safety, RMU Superintendent of Electric Operations Blake Toliver said. 

RMU recently hosted a live wire training exercise for nearly 30 members of the Rochelle Fire Department and Ogle-Lee Fire Protection District using the 7,970-volt trailer, which helps to show the effects of a live wire, including on a vehicle, and fire rescue teams were taught how to safely rescue an accident victim from a vehicle that could be on or near a live wire and how to safely utilize a ladder truck near live wires.

Toliver said the trailer is something he wanted to see built since he started working at RMU, and he’s seen several other utilities use something similar. The trailer consists of a complete pole line with two transformers that can be energized to full primary potential. Linemen can draw an arc off of it that's four-feet long and show the dangers of electricity and what it's capable of. 

“Electricity is silent,” Toliver said. “You can't hear or see it until you're in it. It was something I wanted to do. Especially with the fire department, we have three transmission-class substations here. If we ever were to have a fire in one of our substations, I wanted to get them more involved to show them what the primary line is truly capable of.”

The trailer has also been used for demonstrations for the city’s citizen’s academy program and for the Rochelle Rotary Club. Toliver has been in contact with the elementary school district about taking the trailer to Rochelle Middle School in May for a demonstration for students. He’d like to take it to the high school as well, not only to educate students on electrical safety, but also for those interested in it as a career field. 

Earlier this year on March 26, a Byron woman passed away due to being electrocuted by a downed power line while trying to help neighbors when their home was on fire. Toliver doesn’t want to see an event like that happen again.

“I feel like there's a lot of publicity for stop, drop and roll and what to do in certain situations like sheltering in a tornado,” Toliver said. “Nobody talks about what to do when there's a wire down on the ground. The loss of life in Byron recently was a prime example of that. People aren't educated on electricity as much as I feel they should be.”

Along with the dangers of downed wires, the RMU demonstration also shows the importance of calling in JULIE locates while digging so underground wires aren’t hit, and how RMU fixes an outage. Linemen show community members how to recognize a blown fuse and pole numbers, so they can call it in to help power be restored more quickly.

After receiving the OK from the city to purchase the trailer, one of RMU’s linemen fabricated pole stands that were mounted to the trailer. Old utility poles were cut and put into the stands. The trailer is built under a height of 13.5 feet, so it can be legally pulled down the road. The rest of the trailer is outfitted with everything that would be seen in the field. 

Also discussed during the demonstration for firefighters was flooding concerns and the potential for water carrying an electrical current.

“In my eyes, if we can save one life, the trailer is worth every penny we've put into it,” Toliver said. “Someone having the knowledge to know that they shouldn't be going near a line or approaching anything that's energized is huge for us. It's talking these things through and getting more people the knowledge to know when it's safe to approach something and when it's not. If we can save one life from something that they've learned at one of these demonstrations, I think that's priceless."

The safety trailer has also been used in the final round of skills testing for RMU linemen. The Kishwaukee Education Consortium has reached out to Toliver about bringing students for a demonstration and other utilities have called him with questions about how it was constructed.

“With the word getting out more, more people have approached me about demonstrations,” Toliver said. “Hopefully that means more knowledge in the community on the safety of power."