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March 15, 2023

Columbus Lineworkers Race Toward Burning Building

When faced with an emergency situation, people have a “fight or flight” response that instinctively kicks in. No one quite knows for sure how they will react until it happens. For the line department at Columbus Southwest, that answer is now apparent: fight. 

Twelve of the garage’s 27 lineworkers were in an industrial area of Grove City on March 7. It was a big crew for a big job; they had to upgrade electric service at a paint factory, which included installing two poles, multiple spans of overhead and underground wire, plus an underground transformer  - all in one day.

At around 1:15 p.m. the crew was in the process of setting a pole and stringing the next section of wire. They paused their work to review the next phase of the job when they spotted large, black plumes of smoke billowing into the sky from the property a few hundred yards away. Two lineworkers hollered from their aloft buckets,“The building’s on fire!”

Looking back, the timing was opportune. According to Line Crew Supervisor Rick Gallucci, they were at a safe point in the job. Had they been in the middle of doing energized work, they wouldn’t have been able to react so quickly.

There was little discussion about what to do next. The group raced next door to help.

The scene was chaotic. People were running in and out of the building, and everyone was panicked. The fire department soon arrived, and Gallucci offered to turn off the building’s electricity. This is a common safety practice during structure fires. In fact, the Distribution Dispatching Center already was notified, and a line servicer was about to head to the scene of the fire. The team’s quick reaction saved crucial minutes as firefighters could spring into action without waiting for the servicer to arrive.

A 16-year lineworker, Gallucci has de-energized electric service more times than he can count. But he’s never done it during a structure fire, while at the same time accounting for the safety of his entire crew. Gallucci studied the maps to locate the proper disconnection point. He ensured the spot was clear of the billowing smoke. And he kept himself and his crew out of the path of firefighters. Safety was paramount.

“Don’t ever become the next victim. That’s everything we’ve always learned,” Gallucci said.

The electricity was shut off, and firefighters eventually extinguished the blaze. The good news was that no one was hurt. The bad news was that the building – a Waterbeds ‘n’ Stuff warehouse – was likely destroyed along with all the furniture inside it.

In the end, there wasn’t much for the 12 lineworkers to do to help. Days later, though, Gallucci was still awed by the full-throttle response of his team.

“I thought good of our team already, but to see them in action was something else,” Gallucci said. “The first thing on their minds was to help. They wanted to do whatever they could if there were people to rescue in the fire. It’s a good group of guys."

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