PIKEVILLE, Ky. (Sept. 18, 2017) – It was a warm summer night when David Sammons and his crew were called out to fix a broken pole and restore power to about a dozen residents of Grassy Fork in Raccoon Creek.
When you work in a mountainous area like Pike County, encountering wildlife is common. But Sammons, his crew and the homeowner weren’t prepared for the sight they encountered that night – not one, not two but seven copperheads. Within an hour, the crew and homeowner killed six of them while another one in the right-of-way slithered into the woods.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Sammons, a line crew supervisor who has worked for Kentucky Power for 37 years. “With copperheads, you are more likely to see them at night than during the day. They stir around at night to feed. You might see one or two, but six like that in one spot? That just doesn’t happen.”
Snakes, birds, squirrels and other wildlife not only can pose problems in the field for line crews, they also can make their way onto the road and affect driving. The close mix of forested areas and suburban neighborhoods in Eastern Kentucky pose safety hazards and work restrictions seldom seen by most other operating companies.
The most inherent danger at Kentucky Power is the rural landscape, said Kentucky Power Safety and Health Manager Phil Tolliver. This ruralness combined with inclement weather presents driving hazards and limitations for the work of lineman, meter revenue operators and anyone else traveling around the service area in Eastern Kentucky.
April through November is the time when crews will most often encounter snakes on the job. April through July also is the typical time period for baby deer to be born. This makes late summer and early fall prime time to encounter inexperienced fawns on the road. They are more likely to dart out in traffic and cause accidents which may cause the mother deer to do the same, Tolliver said.
More often, animals, especially snakes, birds and squirrels, pose a different threat to infrastructure and can be the culprit for a large customer outage when they make their way into a substation seeking warmth or shelter. Once inside, their natural instinct is to explore. This exploration leads them to climb or slither onto vital equipment such as transformers or breakers which can knock out power for countless customers and cost thousands of dollars to repair.
Kentucky Power has taken proactive measures by placing animal guards in the form of electric fences behind the primary fencing at some substations. This acts as a secondary barrier which may give animal intruders a mild electric shock and hopefully serve as a future deterrent.
Birds and squirrels also can disrupt electricity while landing on or scampering across electric poles. This is combated by placing animal guards atop transformers to protect the equipment and limit the outage of customers.
Snakes may seek shelter around piles of rocks and sun themselves on rock outcroppings or on top of vegetation to help regulate their body temperature. Being mindful of where you place your hands and feet is critical, not only for workers but for homeowners, too.
Sammons said making repairs after encountering a half-dozen snakes will make anyone pay more attention to where they walk.
“After we saw all those snakes, we still had to fix the pole,” he said. “A lot of times, you don’t have time to think about it. That night we were really paying attention. We were all on edge and very careful where we were stepping.”
More in-depth safety tips about the hazards in Eastern Kentucky can be found https://kentuckypower.com/safety. Kentucky Power, based in Ashland, provides service to about 168,000 customers in all or part of 20 eastern Kentucky counties. It is an operating company in the AEP system.