Black Warrior Electric Sponsored Presentation at the Boligee Fire Station


BOLIGEE, Ala. – You can’t see it, hear it or smell it, electricity safety expert Jeff Whatley recently told a large gathering of volunteer firefighters in Greene County during a special presentation on the dangers of downed or damaged power lines sponsored by Black Warrior Electric Membership Corp. “When you see a power line on the ground, always assume it’s live. That’s what we preach,” Whatley said.

Whatley is a safety specialist for the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives, the statewide trade association serving Alabama’s 22 electric cooperatives, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative and the Tennessee Valley Authority. He spoke Wednesday, Sept. 18, at the September meeting of the Greene County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments held at the Boligee Volunteer Fire Department.

Robert Tutt, safety coordinator for Black Warrior Electric, arranged for Whatley to speak to firefighters. Black Warrior Electric, which serves parts of Greene and 11 other counties in west central Alabama, is an AREA member. “This is an opportunity to share safety training with you,” Tutt said in introducing Whatley. “We know as first-responders how important this is to you.”

Whatley’s presentation included slides and focused on the hidden dangers of electricity. He emphasized the importance of firefighters staying away from power lines, transformers and other electricity-conducting equipment when responding to a fire or other emergencies. They should call the local utility and let them deal with downed power lines, he said, and never try themselves to cut off power to a burning building.

“One hundred and fifty people who are trained on it (electricity) are killed every year,” Whatley said. “And those are people who know what they are doing.”

Whatley said he was an active member of a volunteer fire department for 25 years. “I know what you are up against,” he told the Greene County firefighters. “I know the dangers you face every day. You work to save lives. I understand your role. But I want you to be safe.”

He also spoke of the dangers of trying to help someone in a car that may be in contact with electrical lines.

“If there’s a power line on a car, the shell of the car could be energized,” Whatley said. “If you touch it, you are, too. Leave them in the car if they are not in imminent danger.” If someone inside a car that’s in contact with a live wire step outside the car, that person could be electrocuted, he said.

Whatley also urged caution when using ladders. “Ladders are made of aluminum – the same thing we use to conduct electricity.”

Several Black Warrior Board Members who live in or represent parts of Greene County attended the meeting.

“It’s important that we provide our volunteer firefighters information that not only helps them save the lives of the people they serve, but also helps keep the firefighters themselves safe,” Board Member Irvin Eatman said.

Fellow Board Member A.R. Taylor commended the sacrifices the volunteer firefighters make by putting their lives at risk to help others. “We are grateful for what they do, and we certainly want them to be safe. Anything we can do to assist them with that, we are happy to do it.”

Black Warrior Electric sponsored a similar safety presentation by AREA last year for the Sumter County Volunteer Firefighters Association.

“We are fortunate to have so many men and women who are willing to volunteer their time to serve their communities,” Black Warrior Board Member Peter Reynolds said of the fire departments. “We are also thankful that AREA has safety specialists it is happy to share to get this important message out to our fire departments. Our goal is the same as the fire departments – to serve the community.”

Eutaw’s Hodge Smith, president of the Greene County Firefighters Association, said the information Whatley provided was new to some members and a refresher for others.  “It brought back to mind some of the things I ran into when I worked for the Forestry Commission,” Smith said. “So, even for those of us who have been through some training, this is a needed refresher.”