Air hose suspected in near electrocution

A semi-conductive rubber air hose may be to blame for an accident that left an electrical contractor severely burned Monday afternoon. Jim Cornelius, 48, was doing power-pole maintenance work from the bucket of a crane truck when he somehow made contact with a 14,400-volt line. He suffered severe burns on his face and his right hand and arm, but was able to communicate and walked to the gurney when the ambulance arrived, according the emergency response officials. Cornelius was transferred Monday evening to a burn center at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley , Colo. The nurse supervisor at the burn center said Cornelius was on a ventilator and in the intensive care unit, but was improving. he said he was scheduled to have the dead skin removed from the burned areas and that "he had quite a bit of rehabilitation to do." Mike Blenkush, the vice president of corporate communications for Powder River Energy Corp., the transmission company who subcontracted the injured worker, said their safety analyst was still working on investigating the accident. No final cause of the accident has been determined, he said. Cornelius was a subcontractor who has worked for Sturgis, S.D.-based Live Line Maintenance for about five or six years, according to Live Line's owner Howard Baldwin. Baldwin said that from what he had heard Cornelius' condition "wasn't near as bad" as it could have been. "I had a lot of confidence in him," Baldwin said. Near the electric lines, Baldwin said they never use electric tools, only air-powered ones. Air pressure operates the tools and is supplied through non-conducting nylon air tubes. When the tube Cornelius was using broke, he apparently bought a regular rubber hose, which has carbon in it, to replace it, Baldwin said. "I think he just bought a regular air line, thinking it was rubber, but that stuff has carbon in it, like it has in tires and I am virtually certain that's what got him in trouble." The carbon in the rubber makes the rubber semi-conductive, Baldwin said. Baldwin said he did not know about the rubber hose until after the accident happened, or he would have made Cornelius exchange it for a nylon hose. When doing line maintenance, Baldwin said special protective gloves are worn that insulate the wearer from the transmission lines. He said even if the wearer touched a line with the gloves on, nothing would happen. By Adam Rankin News-Record Writer
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