CALAIS – An excavator operator narrowly averted being injured Thursday after the boom arm on his machine hit some high-tension wires, showering them down around him.
Earl Stanhope Jr. of Robbinston remained inside the cab until a crew from Eastern Maine Electric Co-op was able to cut power to the lines.
Stanhope was in danger because one line landed on the metal track of his machine. “So he had a live power line across the excavator,” Eastern Maine Electric Co-op manager of communications Charlie McAlpin said Thursday. “Fortunately, he had the good sense to stay in the excavator so he didn’t become part of the circuit to ground himself,” he said.
McAlpin noted that in such accidents the safest place is inside the vehicle. And the person should “not touch any thing metal,” he added.
Around 4 p.m. Stanhope was digging a hole behind Johnson’s True Value Hardware Store near Calais Avenue when he reached down to answer his cell phone. He apparently hit a lever on the machine that sent the boom arm upwards, snagging overhead power lines. “He caught the lines, which in turn pulled on the high-tension lines, which toppled two poles,” Lt. Dale Purton of the Calais Fire Department said.
The line that was draped across the cab appeared to be a telephone line, but a high-tension line was hung up on the track of the excavator, Purton added.
Purton said that one transformer did spring a leak. The electric company has “procedures for taking care of that,” he said.
Trooper Tim McCadden of the Maine State Police said he was in the field office finishing up some paperwork when the power went out.
McCadden said he had planned to deliver some information that Stanhope had requested to him. Unaware that Stanhope had actually caused the power outage, McCadden said he decided to call him to let him know he had the information.
“By happenstance when I called his residence he had his cell phone number on the machine. When I called his cell phone, he said that he was covered with power lines. So I asked him if he was OK. He said ‘yes.’ I asked him if he had called the police department and he said ‘yes,'” McCadden said. “It was really, really coincidental I happened to call him while he was in his rig after having the accident.”
McAlpin said that power was out to about 900 homes and businesses in the downtown and outlying areas for about an hour.
“Crews are out there now putting the lines up,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work here in town to be able to reroute power when we need to keep power to the hub of downtown,” he said.
But power in other areas, including South Street, remained out for several hours. McAlpin said that crews expected to have all power restored to the downtown area by early evening.
The Calais fire and police departments and Downeast EMS were on the scene.