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The True Story of a Power Line Contact Victim

February 15th, 2018
Safety

The day that then-lineman Rick Svecla had 25,000 volts of electricity surge through his body started out like any other day on the job.

In 1989, Rick and his crew were performing maintenance on an electrical system outside of a gas plant in northwestern Alberta.

Rick was working on the last pole when a generator inside the plant was accidentally switched on, sending a surge of electricity through his body. The breaker tripped, but for Rick — who was now upside down and hanging on for his life — things were about to get worse. The generator was turned on a second time.

“The electricity got me both ways; first it went in one hand and out my foot, and then it went in through the opposite foot and out my other hand.”

Rick spent six agonizing weeks in the burn ward, undergoing surgery, physical therapy and other treatments before returning to his job as a lineman.

“The first couple of weeks were very uncertain,” he says, “we didn’t know the extent of the damage and every time I went to sleep with all four appendages bandaged, I wasn’t sure what I’d wake up to.”

Though he still experiences some nerve, circulation and graft-related complications since his incident over 20 years ago, Rick considers himself lucky not to have suffered more devastating consequences.

“Everything felt like it was on fire — it’s like sticking your arms and legs in a fire pit.”

Over the years, Rick has shared his story with others in the industry as an advocate for power line safety. He stresses that while it's the responsibility of the site supervisor and your employer to create a hazard-free worksite, it's up to every member of the crew to take what they learn in the training room and put it into practice, especially when working near overhead or underground power lines.

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Contact Map

Think power line contacts are few and far between? Think again.
Keep track of overhead and underground contacts occurring across Alberta.

The Joint Utility Safety Team (JUST) is a partnership between the following Alberta electric utilities with contributions from local municipalities, formed to address the frequency of power line contacts across the province.