July 28, 2014

Power trip: Campers get a ride in Ameren's bucket truck

Belleville grade school students got a bird's eye view of the city Monday from atop an Ameren bucket truck.

"Are you ready to fly?" Ameren lineman Jonathan Coleman asked 6-year-old Holden Combs as he placed him into the lift bucket of an Ameren truck.

Holden nodded his head yes, and Coleman slowly hoisted the bucket into the air. Holden waved down to those below once it came to a stop above the top of a nearby tree.

"I had fun," Holden said as he took off the safety harness used to secure him inside the lift bucket. "I see a lot of clouds and a lot trees." He will be a first-grader at Signal Hill School in Belleville.

It wasn't all fun and games Monday. Ameren Illinois officials visited Holden and the other campers in the West End Neighborhood Summer Camp at Ellis Elementary School to teach the children about electricity safety.

Before the bucket truck rides began, Ameren Illinois engineers Langston Rose and Wayne Spencer conducted a My Safety City demonstration where they used a miniaturized city to teach children how to be safe around electricity. The model operates just like a real city with live underground and above ground electric wires

Spencer showed the campers how an adult may accidentally get electrocuted if they are adjusting an antenna on the roof and it touches nearby power lines. Small sparks were visible when Spencer, who was wearing safety gloves, touched the antenna to the miniature power lines.

Rose reminded the children never to fly a kite near power lines. "A kite can act like a wire and become energized," he told them. He advised flying a kite in a large open area.

"If you see a power line on the ground always assume it's live and stay away from it," Rose said.

They told the students not to climb trees near power lines and to stay away from trees during lightning storms.

"Climbing trees is fun but you need to be safe," Rose said. "Trees can be a conductor for electricity."

He also told the students to be careful around metal fences following a storm just in case a power lines came down near the fence.

"I didn't know that electricity can go around houses on fences," said 8-year-old Avery Billups, a third-grader at Signal Hill School.

Rose and Spencer showed the campers what could happen if a shovel or a piece of equipment strikes an underground power line. "If you dig into a power line, it can be bad," Spencer said.

They reminded the campers to have their parents call JULIE before they dig so professionals can mark underground power lines.

Rose asked the students what they would do if a power line fell onto their school bus. "Would you stay inside?" he asked. Three campers raised their hands. The rest would get out.

"You stay in, because you have rubber wheels on the bus and that's keeping you insulated," Rose told the students.

Spencer showed the campers using the city model how electricity from a downed power line can travel through the bus and into a person who touches it. If the bus catches on fire and you need to escape, he told the students to jump as far away as possible.

Following the electricity safety lesson, the campers headed outside to learn about the bucket truck and other safety equipment lineman use including rubber gloves and an extendo stick.

"This allows us to work the power lines from the ground," Coleman told the campers as he demonstrated how high an extendo stick can reach.

Ameren lineman Steve Korobey said it's really hard for lineman to get electrocuted because of all the safety equipment they use.

Korobey took 6-year-old Kelsi Malone, a first-grader at Signal Hill, on a ride in the bucket truck. "It was very high," Kelsi said as she stepped back onto the ground. "It was fun."

Third-graders Rhanita Smith, 8, and Avery were going back and forth about who went higher during the bucket truck ride. "I went higher than Avery," Rhanita teased. "It's not really scary."

Ameren Illinois will be back at Ellis Elementary on Tuesday for Day 2 of its Safety Camp to teach the children about natural gas safety.

Ameren spokeswoman Paula Nixon said Ameren Illinois tries to visit schools and other organizations "as much as possible. We want to talk to as many kids as possible about electricity safety," she said.

Last year, Nixon said Ameren Illinois visited approximately 100 elementary schools throughout the state.

Camp Director Amanda Downard said the 40 kindergarten through fifth-grade students learned about a variety of topics throughout the eight-week program, including sports, theater productions, nutrition and different places around the world.

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