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by Mark Bell,

Many reporters feel it's the technician's job to be concerned about live truck safety. Nothing could be further from the truth. To prevent accidents, reporters need to be an educated "second set of eyes" in the field. Unfortunately, they often aren't.

Consider the reporter who was getting ready for an early morning live shot. The photog/tech parked the truck in the middle of the road to avoid any power lines, but did not notice that it was positioned under the spot where the lines crossed from one side to the other. The mast was raised into the power lines. The contact electrified the truck, grounded the power line through it and then the leg of the photog/tech. The resulting flash from the incident burned the reporter over more than half her body. The technician lost a leg due to his burns.

Other examples abound of incidents involving overhead power lines. In almost every case, one crew person thought the other had the situation controlled. But that other person was occupied with other tasks, and not focused on perceiving hazards to ensure their safety. At many stations, broadcast field technicians are responsible for everything from logistics to maintenance to shooting and editing, as well as operating the truck's transmission equipment. Add functions related to safety, and it's a heavy load.

The truth is that every crew person--including reporters--should be trained and prepared for what’s out there, and know how to react in every environment they encounter, especially on an ENG assignment in a hazardous area. Their lives depend on it.


1. Recognize hazards and protect yourself. Ask the emergency people at the scene about hazards, even if you think you’re aware. Working at night, are you visible? By the side of the road, are you safely away from moving traffic? (AAA stated in a survey that 30% of accidents are caused by roadside distraction…that’s you and your live shot.) At crime scenes, are police present and know you are there? Are you safely out of the area of risk? If it seems even slightly dangerous, rethink, and move to an area from which you have an escape.

2. Keep your objective in mind. If it’s a VO, shoot what’s needed and get out. If it’s a longer piece, discuss story strategies with an eye for being able to maintain safety and get out, or at the very least, have a few choices in case conditions quickly change.

3. Take ownership of the setup.
“Walk away, Walk around, LOOK UP” after parking, and at every opportunity to observe the environment. Reporters are especially effective with this, as they frequently have the opportunity to view the area from a distance, while many photog/techs operate in or near the footprint of the vehicle.

4. Be alert. Multitasking leads to distraction, and distraction is a killer. Know when you are distracted, and also understand the level of distraction of coworkers. You need to help, not remove yourself from parts of the assignment because it’s not your job. You can be killed or seriously injured by another person’s inattention to detail.

5. Stay vigilant. Observe your surroundings at all times. You may see more on a second look at the same situation. And situations can change quickly, without warning.

In a mast-power line contact incident, if your truck becomes electrified:

1. Stay in the truck.
a. Tires generally act to insulate the truck from ground, at least for a short time. Any contact with the truck and the ground at the same time will allow the electrical energy to go from the power line, through the metal in the truck or mast, then through whatever is attached to the truck and the ground. If that is you, the electricity will flow through you. NO commonly worn insulation, such as rubber-soled shoes, is sufficient to insulate high voltage.
b. When insulated from ground by the tires, everything in the truck becomes the same energy as the wire. Any object in the truck is ok to touch…you just can’t touch the truck AND ground at the same time. Think of a bird on a wire. It’s ok if it doesn’t touch the ground, or any grounded object while on the wire. You can use the cell phone, radios, and even the mast controls and vehicle driving controls. They are not in the path to ground, just energized versus ground, with no path to ground if you don’t provide it.

2. Don’t panic.
a. This is far easier to say and write than to actually perform. (Use the emotion you are likely feeling now to motivate you to look for hazards ahead of time.)
b. Assess your situation and understand the safety AND danger factors.
c. Recognize you are in a critical situation and use your energy to assess your situation and communicate about it to emergency services people, bystanders, and those you can reach via radio or cell phone.

3. Call for help.
a. Call “911” and get help. Again, truck mounted or hand held cell phones are both fine and should be working.
b. Alert any bystanders to your peril so they can help you. Ask bystanders to keep others away, including traffic, pedestrians, and the first responders to the 911 calls.

4. Take action, if you can.
a. Can the truck be backed up safely? Ask a helpful bystander.
b. Can the mast be lowered without pulling down a wire? Ask bystander.
c. DO not do anything without clear knowledge of what will be the exact consequences of your action.

5. Stay safe.
a. Many who have left their electrified trucks did not need to. Many who have tried to rescue someone in a perilous situation, but not in immediate danger, were hurt far more seriously then the person originally involved in the initial accident!
b. Communicate. Speak facts, not fears. Physics, not theories/emotions.
If the person giving you advice is not a trained responder, be careful. Ask them why you should move or evacuate, what the hazards and benefits are. They may see more than you, or may miss details you are aware of. They are human, too, and subject to errors.
c. If the person is a trained responder, carefully discuss options. If you have time, i.e. if the truck is not on fire, take the time. Frequently time is a friend, as dangerous conditions are sometimes lessened in time.

6. Know when to jump.
a. If the truck catches fire, that becomes the most dangerous issue. If a fire extinguisher is handy, use it. You need to buy time for emergency responders to come by and assist you with their sophisticated equipment and knowledge. Few trucks have exploded when electrified, and the truck can prove to be a safe place with little internal damage. Again, analyze before moving or jumping into an unknown area.
b. When instructed to jump by qualified emergency services people who have the situation controlled, and you have discussed the available options and conditions, then jump if that’s absolutely the best way to proceed.

7. If you need to jump:
a. Make sure your footwear is on firmly. If you have on high heels, get any other pair of shoes, or snap off the heels so you can land with maximum stability.
b. Remember, you can open or otherwise position the doors to make it easier to jump. You just can’t touch the ground and the door/vehicle at the same time once you hit the ground.
c. Jump free and clear to a comfortable distance. Don’t try to overextend. Your aim is to jump safe, not necessarily far. Remember not to contact the truck and ground at the same time.
c. Do not fall after you jump. If you feel as if you are off balance, hop away from the vehicle with feet as close together as possible to regain your balance. (One tech stated he was told to hop with one foot after the other and take long strides to get away. Anything is safe as long as only one foot is on the ground, or both feet are together….remember, it’s a matter of not straddling two gradients.)

Every person who works on a remote van or truck should practice jumping out of each door. It’s not a move to be doing for the first time in an emergency, and it’s not an easy jump, either. If you are in a van that may respond to emergency situations, this sort of emergency evacuation may be part of the “routine” one day. Like a fire drill in a building, the amount of familiarity you get in a “dry run” is well worth it. You may be thankful one day that you took that dry run. Like the fire drill, it’ll certainly be easier then the real thing, and what you learn may save your life, or that of a colleague.


You got in this profession to tell stories. Stories occur in many places and under many circumstances, some of them very hazardous. Despite your possible desire to be closer, you need to stay away from volatile areas you don't know. You may become the story by going into one.

Many emergency responders believe your station would not send you into a situation in which you are not trained to operate, and they will allow you access to places in which the general public would not be allowed. In this regard they are placing you at risk. They will only learn the real story after an accident, when your lack of preparedness and training become known.

An accident under these circumstances would probably cause emergency services people to limit press access to events. Their “blanket” policy of allowing access because they think you are trained might become a “blanket” policy of not allowing any press people the special access they need to get the story. Of course this would be harmful to all of us in the industry, and hence, our efforts in getting information out to the public.

There are educational resources regarding hazards news people may face. The NPPA's guide, "Look Up and Live" is now available online. Many power companies offer materials for first responders that are very useful to understand accident scenes and disaster response.

You should always ask, and be honest: “Do I really know the risks involved? Discuss the risks with your colleagues, and maybe the assignment desk. Perhaps the desk can perform quick research on your behalf regarding the risks.

A news director related the story of how she saw her crew in a hazardous location during a helicopter shot of a forest fire. She contacted the reporter at the scene by cell phone and told her of the danger as she saw it through the helicopter’s camera. “We’re getting great stuff!” she was told. “We’ll be careful.” The wind shifted and both crew people were overcome by smoke and suffered smoke inhalation. The reporter missed work for an extended period of time. Chances are the “great stuff” they got never made air.

Be careful out there. When you feel the “tingling” of fear because you have told yourself the truth, and you are in a situation in which you feel uncomfortable, use your body’s senses to govern your behavior. Your instincts are for your protection.

If you are a reporter, you’re also a crew person. Even though you and your photog/tech are in parallel careers, being in any danger zone means you can and should watch out for each other by perceiving and assessing all risks, all the time.

In the end, it’s a news story, and your station cannot use your services if you’re injured. They want you back safely so you can work for them tomorrow. Your loved ones will be affected as well. They want you home safe, without injury, at the end of the day, too.

In a risky situation, "Walk around, Walk away, and LOOK UP!" Every time. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Then react accordingly.

Mark Bell can be reached by email -

Page Last Updated
January 15, 2009

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