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Experts caution against rescues near downed power lines

January 15, 2011 |  5:06 pm

A day after three members of a San Bernardino family were killed by a downed power line, emergency response experts urged the public not to attempt to rescue victims near an active electric current.

Fire investigators believe 43-year-old Sharon Vego was electrocuted Friday as she tried to help her husband Steven Vego, 44, and son Jonathan Cole, 21, who had been fatally shocked by the current of a high-voltage power line that had fallen into their backyard during heavy winds. A 17-year-old girl and her 10-year-old brother witnessed part of the electrocution from inside the home.

Experts said you should never touch a downed power line, or get within 20 feet of any person or object in contact with it. Always assume the line is energized.

Your instinct may be to pull the victim away from the electricity source, but getting too close can be a fatal mistake, said Monica Diaz, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region.

“When it comes down to a live wire situation, all you can do is call 911,” Diaz said. “You don't want to approach, because you're endangering your life and not helping anyone.”

If you are near a fallen power line, hop away with your feet close together until you are at a safe distance.

If someone is shocked by an appliance that can be turned off, shut off the power. Turning it off may not stop the flow of electricity, so use a non-conductive object, such as a wooden-handled broom, to push the victim away from the electricity source.

Once the victim is safe, check for breathing, pulse and burns and administer first aid.

-- Tony Barboza