Just hours after a powerful ice storm ripped through a downtown Jackson neighborhood, Jason O’Neal was doing some paperwork in his company vehicle. As he looked in his rear-view mirror, he noticed a woman near debris from a fallen tree.

He took immediate action under the February gray sky, getting out of the vehicle and calmly alerting the woman surveying the damage to stand back from the fallen tree, which stretched about 60 feet long and was close to her driveway. What the woman failed to notice, that O’Neal saw while looking in his mirror earlier: there were wires under fallen branches of the tree.

Always Assume Lines Energized

“She explained to me that she was trying to get her car out of her driveway and when I told her there were wires under the tree, she didn’t see the big deal at first because she didn’t have power, so she thought the line wasn’t energized,” said O’Neal, a seven-year company veteran, who is a supervisor in meter reading. “So, I explained to her we didn’t know if it was energized, and I want to keep her safe, so she needed to be at least 25 feet away from the downed wire.”

It dawned on the woman that she put herself in a potentially dangerous situation, and she thanked O’Neal for helping her. Just moments later, her two children arrived. O’Neal realized with children in a high traffic area he needed to take it a step further.

He grabbed a roll of caution tape to barricade the wire to notify the neighborhood to steer clear of the hazard.

“It’s part of our job to protect and educate the public,” said O’Neal who was a wire down guard earlier in his career with the company. Although not required, he retakes the wire down training on his own each year. It’s for cases just like the recent one he encountered.

O’Neal called the wire down into Consumers Energy and the city of Jackson. Also, O’Neal submitted the incident in the company’s Good Catch Program, designed to empower employees to catch unsafe activities before somebody gets seriously hurt – either among their co-workers or within the public.

Chelsea Dodge, Public Safety Program Coordinator for Consumers Energy, said O’Neal handled everything with the professionalism and attentiveness that is expected of all workers when it comes to protecting the public.

Lessons Learned

“He took the time to help out in a situation that could’ve resulted in a much different outcome,” said Dodge. “Two lessons were learned here, the public needs to always assume that any wire is energized and when there is a downed wire to call 9-1-1 or Consumers Energy immediately to let trained individuals handle the situation.”

Consumers Energy urges the public to keep these important safety tips in mind:

  • Stay at least 25 feet away from downed wires and anything they are touching, keep children or pets away, and report the issue by calling 9-1-1 and Consumers Energy at 800-477-5050.
  • A portable generator should be placed a safe distance away from any doors, windows or fresh air intakes. Never operate a generator inside your home, garage, basement or enclosed area. Proper ventilation is critical.
  • Be alert to crews working along slick roads. Drivers should slow down or stop and wait for oncoming traffic to clear so they safely can go past workers on roadsides.

Two days later, O’Neal followed up with a visit to the neighborhood. He saw residents were back to normal and better yet, the tree had been removed and the lines restored.

“I just wanted to do my part and glad the situation ended the way that it did,” he said. “We all have to look out for one another.”