Putnam Fire Chief Raises Concerns Over Time Spent Responding to Downed Power Lines

Chief Robert Campbell says some of the department's volunteers have spent anywhere from two to 24 hours sitting with active, downed power lines.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

When fierce winds and storms bring down power lines, Chief Robert Campbell said that the top concern for the Putnam Fire Department is safety.

"Power lines can kill anyone in a second and a lot of people are unaware of the danger," said Campbell.

His crews go to a scene to make sure no one approaches the downed line and that everyone stays safe. However, Campbell said that his department, made up of 35 volunteers, is spending more time than they should at the calls.

"We are not here to babysit power lines," Campbell said.

According to Campbell, some volunteers in Putnam have spent anywhere between two to 24 hours sitting at the scene of a downed power line, waiting for the electric company, Eversource, to arrive or shut the power off.

Campbell said that since the lines remain active, they pose a public safety risk. He wants Eversource to address the downed lines within a specific time frame so that the volunteer firefighters can move on to other calls.

"This is your transmission line, not the area fire department's," said Campbell. "We will make it safe like we make everything else safe, but they have to work with us and get someone in there in a reasonable time."

A spokesperson for Eversource told NBC Connecticut that every call is different and they could not comment on specific stories that Campbell shared. The spokesperson said that Eversource crews are not equipped with flashing lights and sirens, but they work to get to every call as safely and as quickly as possible.

Eversource does have a team of employees who are responsible for sitting with downed wires during storms, according to the spokesperson, but they may not always be available depending on the extent of the damage across the state.

The company also said that many times it is not as simple as shutting power off to a problem area because it could affect thousands of customers.

"We take our role as first responders extremely seriously and work closely with leaders in all of the communities we serve, we value those relationships and are always examining our processes to identify opportunities for improvement," Mitch Gross, a spokesperson for Eversource Connecticut Media Relations, wrote to NBC Connecticut in an email.

According to Gross, Eversource called Campbell Tuesday and promised to call him next week to set up a meeting.

"They have got to do something different," said Campbell. "Because we can't spend the hours out there, we've got families."

Campbell took his concerns to State Rep. Rick Hayes.

Hayes used to be a volunteer firefighter and said that he also experienced the same issue. He said things got better over the years and crews were not waiting as long for Eversource, but he believes they are back where they started.

"It takes a strain on the fire departments with their personnel. It takes a strain on the employees who have left their employers, as well as the fuel used in the fire trucks," said Hayes. "We are looking to see if we can have a discussion with Eversource and find a solution that works for both sides."

Hayes shared Campbell's concerns with Rep. Anne Dauphinais from the neighboring district, representing Killingly and Plainfield. Dauphinais said that the fire crews in her region have also expressed concerns.

"These people are volunteers and they are doing it out of their own goodwill," said Dauphinais. "We want to use them in the best way that we can and sitting and waiting for Eversource to arrive is certainly not efficient."

Dauphinais added that all of the fire departments in her area are volunteer fire departments and many are already struggling to find volunteers.

Hayes and Dauphinais are hosting a meeting next week with the fire crews in their region to learn more about the firefighters' concerns with downed power line calls. Their hope is to start the discussion and work toward solutions.

"Maybe we can come up that they will promise the departments that they will respond within a certain number of hours and have somebody there that can sit on the scene, make sure the public is safe and let our firefighters go back to what they do," said Hayes.

Gross said that a representative from Eversource will be calling Campbell after the meeting with Hayes and Dauphinais next week. Eversource said they will sit down with Campbell and other fire chiefs to discuss roles during a storm and any concerns.

"It is getting way out of hand now and something has to change," said Campbell. "That is all we are asking for is something to change."

Contact Us