Mast v. power lines

Outside the Fulton Co. Jail, NW Atlanta 11.18.09

A WSB TV crew failed to lower its 40-foot mast following a noon live shot at the Fulton County jail today.  WGCL reports the operator drove the truck, mast extended, into some power lines.  That triggered an explosion which damaged the truck and sent a surge of electricity into the ground below, damaging a water main.  Amazingly, the crew survived and sustained only moderate injuries.  Tom Jones was the reporter on the story and presumably riding in the passenger’s seat when the accident happened.  Leonard Raglin, a longtime WSB and WXIA veteran, was the photographer / truck operator.

Harry Samler of WGCL took some photos of the truck.  Samler reports that the mast’s impact with the power lines caused an explosion which blew the dish from the top, as well as a section of the mast.  The photos show a shorched area around the engine of the vehicle.  Samler’s coverage is here.  WSB’s site is here, but at this writing there appears to be no coverage.  (WSB has since added a brief copy story here.)

The photos also show that the power lines are straight-from-the-substation transmission lines.  Samler reports they carried 115,000 volts.

The safe operation of a live truck is a drill that’s recited in TV newsrooms at least as often as the fact-checking essentials of newsgathering.  Trucks have warning labels, front and back, that remind the operator that you can be killed if the mast comes into contact with a power line.  Yet live trucks are also part of the mind-numbing newsgathering routine at many TV stations, where perhaps a majority of stories are delivered with the help of these vehicles.  Truck operators aren’t supposed to get complacent.  If they do, it can be deadly.

Photos by Harry Samler, WGCL

The most dangerous part of the mast vs. powerline encounter can come afterward, when the crew is trying to exit the electrified vehicle.  If the truck comes in contact with power lines, the crew is taught to jump forcefully out of the vehicle, so that they aren’t in contact with the ground and the vehicle at the same time.  Morse Diggs  actually demonstrates this during WAGA’s coverage of the accident.

In this case, Samler tells LAF that it appears the truck lost contact with the power lines after the top of the mast blew off.  This means the electrification of the truck was powerful but brief.  It ruptured the asphalt below the truck.  It set the engine on fire.  And it somehow spared Raglin and Jones from serious injury.

Most live trucks I’ve ridden in have ear-splitting alarms that go off if there’s even a hint that the mast isn’t stowed.  The alarm goes off the instant the driver puts the truck into gear.   On rare occasions, the alarms go off erroneously.  As deadlines approach, the operator’s only choice may be to temporarily disable the alarm.  Sometimes those alarms don’t get fixed, and the subsequent truck operator may not know that this safety device isn’t working.  It’s not clear what happened in this instance.

Samler narrates the video below.  Like him, I’m delighted that I’m not writing about a fatal accident.

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Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form, zero, zilch, nada. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

31 thoughts on “Mast v. power lines

  1. Jim

    I won’t pass judgement, because I know how easy it is to get in a hurry, and wasn’t there. Instead, I’ll just be happy that I’m able to thank God that they’re okay.

    Reply
  2. JasonC

    That’s one of the worst looking accidents I have seen from a live truck accident involving power lines. I am thankful they are both alright. They are probably blessed that the explosion happened and severed the mast which would have made exiting the van dangerous, as you noted.

    Reply
  3. mike daly

    I’ve seen worse and they are extremely lucky. I’m very glad this didn’t turn out as bad as it could have and I hope both are going to be okay. Every time I extend a live truck mast, I say out loud, “Look up and live.” It’s my habit and the weird thing is that I’ve never once heard anyone make fun of me for saying it.

    Reply
  4. Mike Stansbery

    As an Engineer in TV I can tell you, I have worked on many live trucks. I have not worked on one that does not have a warning system that either puts out an ear splitting tone or kills the engine if the truck is put into gear with the mast up. Some do both. This being an obviously fairly new truck, and from the look of it either a Wolfcoach or Frontline truck, I must assume that it has a mast warning system. It was not operating obviously. It must have either been broken or had been bypassed. The truck should have been out of service either way.

    I am glad no one was killed. They EASILY could have been. But, the fact remains that neither the photog nor the reporter were doing their jobs properly if they BOTH failed to notice that the trucks 40 foot mast was still extended when they got in to drive away.

    This could have easily ended with 2 dead employees. I would say some refresher training on live unit safety is in order.

    Reply
  5. electrode

    Been in local for 30 years, how do you make a mistake like that? Save the platitudes gang, they are damn lucky to be alive.

    Reply
  6. aphotog

    I don’t know how many nightmares I’ve had about this happening to me. I’m sooo glad they’re okay. They could’ve been killed or dismembered as many of us photogs know. I wonder what happened to the warning alarm? Now I wonder after a “bomb-like” explosion in this situation, is it really easy to remember to do a huge “bunny-hop” out of a burning truck….

    Reply
  7. Scott Hedeen

    wow. live trucks are dangerous from shifting racks of gear to hitting live wires with a mast. luckily no one was killed. in the truck.. or around the truck.

    look at this example as a reason to push harder for live via broadband thru internet sites. push the envelope with these type of technologies.. and the stories of near death accidents will go the way of other work place hazards.. similar to working in a coal mine. cue the canary.

    Reply
  8. Scott Hedeen

    hmmm… i’m now looking and seeing that this was a news story in the atlanta market. really? i’m glad leonard raglin is okay… but seems like a WSB internal issue.. not a WGCL breaking news event.

    Reply
  9. George Franco

    I remember all too well a KABC truck in LA in May of 2000. The reporter if I recall had to have one of her legs partially amputated from the burns. CAL-OSHA levied some fines against the station if I remember correctly. I was in Sacramento and we all got mandatory safety training as a result at our station. I only hope this latest accident reminds us all to as Mike Daly says “look up and live”…

    Reply
  10. mosquechild

    Thanks scott. Clearly you’re not from Atlanta.

    Every station covered this story. However, not one treated it as breaking news.

    Reply
  11. arky

    In a perfect example of Murphy’s Law, I see that this live truck is also their satellite truck. That’s something Channel 2 is going to miss.

    I have fortunately never seen this sort of thing happen in person, but I did know I guy who ran a full-size SNG truck and once drove down the street with the dish up. He took down a couple of intersections’ worth of stoplights before somebody flagged him down.

    Reply
  12. Twhims

    Wow. Just Wow. This happened one time at YFF during my tenure, but not nearly as explosive. Remarkably, no one was badly hurt in that incident either…and the eng was actually allowed to keep his job.

    Today there are at least two journalists in this country who are redefining their priorities in life.

    Reply
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  14. Pingback: WSB-TV van, mast up, hits power line, gets fried | Radio & TV Talk

  15. DeadBeatBert

    I head up ENG training at WJHG and I’m just glad they’re both alive. The operator can consider himself extremely fortunate to still have his job.

    We have just completed station wide training for energized vehicle escape and this serves as a perfect example of why we run it every six months.

    Reply
  16. daryll

    George Franco referenced ABC-7 reporter Adrienne Alpert’s near death experience. Their ENG truck sent the mast up into the power lines while she was standing outside the truck holding a wired mic for a live shot. I believe NBC 4 caught this incident on tape and aired it on their news. She faced extensive physical therapy after some amputations. She’s still on air with the station.

    Reply
  17. Pingback: WSB-TV van, mast up, hits power line, gets fried | ATL Report - Atlanta News and Gossip

  18. cityjock

    “..seems like a WSB internal issue.. ”

    Absolutely not! When these mistakes happen, the operators place everyone around them at risk of serious injury or death. To think this accident is an “internal issue” is not only crazy, it’s just stupid.

    Reply
  19. GLCer

    The number one cause of these incidents is the photog/driver taping over/bypassing the alarm or alarm speaker.

    The phortog/driver assumes they will always check it before they leave the scene.

    As we’ve seen it takes only one time.

    Now two people are affected for life, two families are traumatized and a newsroom is left in shock and a $400,000 truck is lost.

    Reply
  20. Baylink

    <rant>
    And I have another thought that’s come to my mind… it may not make me all that popular with truck ops, though.

    The right solution to this is an ignition interlock: mast + engine + not-Park equals kill-engine. The problem, as noted, is that such interlocks tend to fail in various interesting and annoying ways, usually at the worst possible time.

    But the *real* problem — even one layer past “the maintenance department doesn’t maintain the interlock properly (assuming it exists at all :-})” is …

    The truck operators don’t squawk the failure hard enough.

    Clearly, quite a bit more motivation in hammering on getting it fixed so that it works *properly* and is hence not manually-overriden is called for, than is being currently displayed, somewhere along the line.

    The mast interlock is a life-safety component, and you treat it that way, all the way up the line. If it breaks in either direction, you squawk it *immediately*, *and you don’t stop paying attention to it until it is fixed, properly*.

    That is: whomever first notices it needs to drop everything, and follow it around until it is fixed, right that very minute. I don’t care if that means getting a mechanic out of bed, I don’t care if it means a station manager needing to go buy spare parts on his credit card…

    If you screw it up, people will die… unless you’re *really* lucky.

    Sure, that stuff is all painful, and expensive, and annoying, and time-consuming. So’s attending funerals and paying off on wrongful-death suits.

    We use the phrase life-safety for a very specific reason: to focus people’s attention on the fact that *every link in the chain* has to work, or someone might get killed *and it might be your fault*.

    This doesn’t belong on the people in the truck, by and large; it belongs on people who make (or fail to make) policy that will prevent it from happening.
    </rant>

    Reply
  21. Kiffa Roberts

    I lost a friend in Vancouver to just this type of accident. Was there an alarm on this truck? was it in operation/disabled the station WSB-TV chould be held liable if there was no alarm.

    Look up folks!

    Reply
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