Electrical dangers, Post battles 'invisible enemy'

By Pfc. Leah R. Burton
Staff writer

A Coalition Soldier was recently the victim of the fifth electrocution in theater in the past several months.

The incident occurred in a unit latrine shower as a result of improper grounding of the water heater in a renovated latrine.

"Since the water pipes are metal, electrical current probably traveled from the ungrounded water heater through the metal pipes to the shower that the victim was using. Leaders inspected other renovated latrines and found other water heaters that were not grounded. This incident exemplifies the potential hazard of electricity and what can happen if electricians fail to properly install electrical systems," said Lt. Col. Frank Lobocarro, the 13th Corps Support Command safety officer.

When contractors renovate structures here, the acility Engineer Team-15 requires that they follow the International Electrical Code. Upon completion of any hardened building renovations, FET-15 inspects to ensure that all improvements are up to standard.

"KBR has a program where they regularly inspect the latrine shower clusters (the latrine and shower trailers) for proper grounding. The specifications require that they be grounded. KBR is going back and verifying the grounding on all the shower trailers," said Maj. Gus Elzie, an electrical engineer with FET15.

Part of the problem of Soldiers getting electrocuted could be a result of Soldiers taking it upon themselves to do the wiring.

"Sometimes the work order process can take two months. They get tired of the work order process, so they buy some wiring or pick it up at the dump and think they can do it themselves. A lot of that work hasn't come through us," said Master Sgt. Lee Collier, health and safety inspector with FET-15.

All wiring should go through FET-15. Only KBR or Army qualified electricians should be working with the wiring in any post structure, except for contractors doing reconstruction.

"The bottom line is we do not want the Soldiers doing any wiring," Elzie said.

Another part of the problem stems from the rough shape Iraq's installations were in when the Coalition took over. Some of those problems persist even now. Doubtless, still other problems have yet to be identified, said Collier.

With these facts in mind, people must be alert for signs of faulty wiring, such as burn marks on outlets and switch plates, circuit breakers that trip frequently, and warm-to-the-touch or discolored wires and outlets.

Flickering lights, appliances making strange sounds dangerssssssuch as crackling or buzzing, and equipment with loose or frayed wires are also an indication that a problem exists.

If a Soldier suspects an electrical problem, it is imperative that he or she reports it to the Directorate of Public Works immediately and refrains from using the hazardous currents or equipment until it has been repaired. If an individual does come in contact with faulty wiring and power shutoff is not an option, only emergency personnel with the appropriate protective equipment should move the victim.

Loss of consciousness, no breathing, weak or nonexistent pulse and burn marks are some symptoms of electrical shock. Qualified personnel should move quickly to perform rescue breathing until the heart and lungs function properly or until emergency personnel arrive. Though people depend on electricity, this dependence should not lull people into complacency. People must stay alert to its dangers.


Master Sgt. Lee Collier
Master Sgt. Lee Collier of Facility Engineer Team-15 tightens the ground wiring of a water heater behind the Prime Power building on post June 5.