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Electricity and Water Don’t Mix


From left, siblings Kaylee, Parker and Haylee Roberts stay safe when around electricity. Photo by James Pratt


Electricity 101


You might wonder where electricity comes from and how it powers your alarm clock, lights, blow dryer, refrigerator and other electrical appliances. By defi nition, electricity is the fl ow or movement of electrons through a “conductor.” A conductor is a material that allows for easy fl ow of electricity. Metals such as copper and aluminum are good conductors, and so is water. On the other hand, some materials like porcelain and rubber do not allow for the easy fl ow of electricity. They are known as insulators.


Electricity is made or “generated” at power plants. Some of the fuel sources used to make electricity include coal, natural gas, solar, hydro and wind. When electricity leaves the power plant it is transmitted across copper or aluminum wires that are suspended in the air from tall trans- mission towers. Electricity passes through the wires at voltages as high as 765,000 volts.


Voltage is the force or pressure of electricity. To better understand volt- age, picture a pipe with water running through it. The pressure of the water passing through a pipe is similar to the voltage of electricity pass- ing through power lines. Next, electricity passes through a substation transformer where the voltage is reduced to less than 39,000 volts. From the substation, distri- bution power lines deliver electricity to its end users—places like homes, schools and businesses. These power lines are suspended from wooden distribution poles that typically range from 35 to 50 feet tall. Before entering the home, a transformer on the pole further reduces the voltage to between 120 and 240 volts. A “service drop” moves the electricity from the distribution pole to your electricity meter. Sometimes, power lines are buried underground. In this case, a pad-mounted trans- former (a green box often found in the back or side yard) reduces the voltage before it connects to your meter and enters your home. From the meter, the electricity enters a “service panel” in your home.


Additional wires, often inside the walls, distribute the electricity to out- lets throughout your home. Even at the voltages found in the home, electricity can cause injury


if not used properly. Though you cannot see, hear, taste or smell elec- tricity, if you come into contact with it, you will feel it—and it will not be a good feeling! To promote electrical safety, Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives present programs to children and youth in their service territories. If you remem- ber the following four simple principles, you can stay safe around electricity.


“Electricity and water don’t mix at all,” Robyn Turney, communica- tions specialist at Alfalfa Electric Cooperative reminds kids during the co-op’s Safety Smart program. Alfalfa Electric presents this and other safety lessons to children at the 16 elementary schools in its service territory.


As part of the demonstration, the co-op’s assistant director of opera- tions and former lineman, Kevin Lingemann, uses a light bulb connect- ed to a live wire to show what happens when a hair dryer comes in contact with water. The water sparks and boils. This is a reminder to the kids to keep dryers, phone chargers and other electrical devices away from water sources like bathtubs and sinks.


Lingemann goes on to demonstrate what happens when the hair dryer is plugged in to an outlet with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). The GFCI has a breaker built into it and immediately shuts off electricity to the dryer when it is exposed to water. “GFCI outlets should be used in areas of the home where water is present, including the kitchen and bathroom,” Turney says. “They are standard now, but often older homes don’t have them.” Another approach to teaching kids about electrical safety is the “Making Accidents Disappear” magic show Northwestern Electric Cooperative (NWEC) presents to the 11 elementary schools in its service territory. Magician Scott Davis captivates his young audience with a variety of tricks. “He talks about being safe in the bathtub, not letting a radio or an-


other electrical appliance fall into it. Then he makes a cup of water disappear,” says Jonna Hensley, NWEC’s member services and commu- nications coordinator. “He’s hilarious and the kids love him.” The principle that electricity and water do not mix goes beyond keep- ing electrical appliances away from water. Clara Eulert, member relations representative at Indian Electric Cooperative, teaches students the body is 70 percent water so it is a good conductor of electricity. “By its nature, electricity seeks a path to the ground. If you come in contact with electricity, it will use your body as a path to get to the ground,” she says. Indian Electric Cooperative illustrates this and other safety messages to its young audience through the EXTREME Electrical Safety program. Bodybuilder Kaleb Wright anchors safety messages through feats of physical strength. He mesmerizes the kids when he uses his bare hands to bend a metal horseshoe into the shape of a heart. “This is a reminder if electricity passes through your heart, it can be deadly,” Eulert says.


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