Inevitably when there’s talk about One Man Band TV reporting, the issue of safety comes up.
In my career as a traditional TV reporter, I’ve dealt with everything fron knife weilding nutcases to angry neo-nazis, crazed dogs and stinging insects. In the old days, I usually had my partner (photographer) covering my back, and vice versa. Obviously, working alone leaves me playing man-to-man D in any tough situation that comes up.
Below is a little memo I wrote to my co-workers recently about a situation that could have got anybody killed, working alone or not. It had nothing to do with dark nights in a bad neighborhood. But it does illustrate that you are your own safety fail safe.
Nowadays, I try to remember the most experienced, level-headed partners I have worked with — and ask myself, “what would they be thinking right now?” — before I get out of the car. (Speaking of cars, driving is clearly the most dangerous thing we do on the job everyday.)
The memo titled “Live Wire Safety” is below:
I had a little storm chasing experience that I thought I’d share, partly as a safety reminder, and partly to get over the “willies” by telling someone.
For background, I’ve sat through a lot of mandatory safety seminars over the years — and like many of us, I feel like I’ve “been there, done that” in just about every situation. Yesterday, I learned how dangerous that attitude can be.
I was headed to a downed live wire and arrived simultaneously with first responders. Its a situation I’ve seen repeatedly in 27-years of reporting. Recognizing the danger, I resisted the instinct for up close nats with firefighters, and took the following actions:
*I stayed safely in the electrically insulated car and retreated at least 50 yards.
*I put the car safely out of traffic.
*I put on my reflective vest.
*I checked the power lines and trees above for any signs of instability before getting the camera out to begin shooting.
Only then did I start shooting action so distant I was on full zoom.
So how did I almost get electrocuted for a routine 30-second vo?
I made the critical mistake of parking less than 10 feet from a galvanized steel guard rail, which happened to be in contact with the wire more than 50 yards away.
It’s an obvious hazard I never considered, until electricity arced from the rail right nearby — at about the same time a firefighter warned me the rail might be hot.
Thankfully, a guard rail is obviously grounded, but had I parked a little closer and swung the car door into contact with it, or touched it in any way, I would be cooked. (Ironically, for safety, I often make a point of putting a guard rail between me and traffic by climbing over to the other side — or I’ll lean against one to steady an off tripod shot).
The visible arcing was a sign that even the rail’s contact with the ground was not enough to handle the current.
It was, as they say, a close one — and I should have known better, because I’ve been trained on this.
Lesson learned: In live wire situations — think about ALL the ways that electricity reach out to get you. Distance from the arcing wire is not the only consideration. (And thinking you’ve “been there, done that” is not a smart approach).