Video: A Vancouver homeless man is electrocuted leaning on a city lamp standard
CKNW News ran a feature story this morning that should give us all pause. Our streets are full of risks posed by aging electrical infrastructure. However, the response from the City of Vancouver doesn't exactly instill confidence.
While Vancouver has made several social causes such as setting up homeless shelters and building separated bike lanes into top priorities, there are some questions on whether more mundane work is taking a back seat. CKNW reporter Brett Mineer did a feature report which ran on this morning's Morning News program where he explored the streets of downtown Vancouver with a US-based contractor which specializes in finding "stray power" – where damaged or improper wiring has electrified surrounding surfaces such as sidewalks and lamp standards.
We gather that NW's story came about as a result of a sequence of events. Last month the station reported that Vancouverite Paul Giannoulis was walking his dog Sierra when they both received shocks from a sidewalk on the eastside. A local dog advocate whose own pet was killed by this "stray" electrical current decided to take matters into her own hands, and contacted Tom Catanese of Power Survey Company of New Jersey.
Yesterday, Catanese and Mineer roamed the streets of Vancouver in his vehicle specially equipped with an electrical charge sensor – kind of like Google's Street View mapping cars. Another comparison would be "sniffers" used by utility companies to locate possible gas leaks. Just blocks from Catanese's accommodation they began to get readings. Stepping out of the vehicle they attached a bare wire between a manhole cover for ground, and touched a city lamp standard.
The photo above shows the result – an immediate spark. Catanese's meter said there was 240 volts charging through the lamp standard. It wasn't the only one he found like this. Speaking with Tom earlier today he reports that he found two poles with 240 volts and one with 120 volts running right into the metal exterior.
"Just covering an area of about one kilometre, we found over 100 potential problems," says Catanese. "Our company does surveys annually for New York City. A woman died there from a 57-volt charge. Here I've found problems with two times and up to four times the voltage." In Seattle, where Power Survey Co. has recently worked, a dog died from an electric shock after relieving itself on a lamp standard.
Mineer contacted Al Luongo from the City of Vancouver to get their reaction to his story. Asked whether his staff could conduct a survey of the whole city, Luongo responded, "It would be significant for us to set up an inspection program where we would actually would test the poles for continuity and shorts and what not. We do have a pole-checking program, so this may be something we need to look at in the future..."
Catanese says that his company's system is unique for its swiftness and relatively low cost compared to manual testing. It's why they've been hired all around the continent.
Meeting with Delta Mayor Lois Jackson today, Catanese impressed the Metro Vancouver chair, who promises to raise it among her colleagues at the board.
The City of Vancouver faces the struggles all cities do – our infrastructure is aging. Wiring overhead and in particular underground is susceptible to the elements. So what will the City do to ensure that we are safe?
Last year the City's chief electrician Ark Tsisserev, recognized nationally for his expertise, was fired by Mayor Gregor Robertson and City Manager Penny Ballem. In the face of these potential health and safety risks posed by electrical wiring on our streets, maybe that seems like a short-sighted decision?
Like many US and Canadian cities who have already contracted Power Survey Company's services, maybe the City of Vancouver and surrounding municipalities should be looking closer at these risks?
Kudos to CKNW News and Brett Mineer for a provocative piece of reporting. Listen to the whole report and see more images at their website.
UPDATE: No shock to us, Mineer's story is now being covered by other media, including GlobalTV who ran it as their top story at noon. It also ran on their 6 o'clock newscast. The Province newspaper and 24 Hours have also weighed in on this story. And now one of our readers Gerry has published a video he took last September of a homeless person getting zapped.
- post by Mike