scene of a car accident with powerlines (photo courtesy of hyrdo ottawa)

First Responders


Always assume a downed powerline is energized and deadly.

Contact with a powerline is a leading cause of electrical-related death in Ontario.

As a first responder, you can help prevent some of these fatalities. If you arrive on the scene and a powerline is down, here’s the correct way to safely handle the situation.

  1. Always assume the downed powerline is live and deadly.
    • It’s important to be aware that there is no way of knowing if a powerline is live just by looking at it. Just because a powerline isn’t arcing doesn’t mean it isn’t energized and deadly. Always assume a downed line is live until the power utility tells you otherwise.
  2. Keep everyone, yourself included, at least 10 metres away (the length of a school bus).
    • A person doesn’t have to be touching a powerline to be electrocuted — even the ground around it could be electrified. Keep everyone the length of a school bus away from it.
  3. Report the situation to the local power utility. Find the right utility here.
    • Only the power utility can safely determine if a line is energized or not, and it usually involves a site visit. Until they arrive and confirm that the line isn’t live, keep everyone 10 metres away.
  4. Do not let the occupants exit the vehicle.
    • Assuming the vehicle isn’t on fire, instruct the occupants to stay inside. They can get out safely only once the power utility confirms the downed line isn’t energized.
  5. If the vehicle is on fire, occupants must jump out, not step out.
    • If people must get out before you have confirmation that the line isn’t live, it’s critical that they never touch the ground and the vehicle at the same time.
    • The only safe way for occupants to exit the vehicle in this case is to: 
      • Remove any loose-fitting clothing, then open the door.
      • Facing out, tuck elbows into stomach, keep hands clasped close to chest.
      • Jump/hop out, making sure to land with both feet together. They should not touch the vehicle and ground at the same time.
      • Move 10 metres away from the vehicle using the shuffle technique: shuffle feet, heel to toe, always ensuring that their feet keep touching each other, and do not lift off the ground. 

Safety Video

Electrical Safety Handbook for Emergency RespondersLearn more about electrical hazards in first responder situations

The Electrical Safety Handbook for Emergency Responders was developed to educate and protect first responders who are called to emergencies that involve electrical systems such as powerlines. It presents best practices that will help you respond safely and effectively.

Following these best practices will help you to respond safely and effectively to emergency situations.

Download the Electrical Safety Handbook for Emergency Responders