Eversource electricity outage map
Screengrab of Eversource’s outage map during thunderstorms on July 14, 2023. Credit: Screengrab / Eversource

Eversource’s delayed response to a January car crash resulted in two individuals staying trapped for longer than they should have been after their car struck a utility pole in Norfolk, according to an investigation by the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).

In a proposed final decision issued this week, PURA also found that Eversource’s reporting of the accident violated statutes and regulations, prompting the agency to direct Eversource to review and revise its accident response procedures as well as improve the quality of its reporting of information after an accident.

PURA also wants to mandate a 30-minute response time for Priority 1 calls. This  accident was deemed Priority 1 based on a life-threatening situation created by live wires falling on the vehicle, preventing emergency responders from performing rescue efforts.

Eversource representatives said the company is reviewing the decision and will reply to PURA by July 19.

The accident occurred around 2:23 p.m. on Jan. 17. The vehicle collided with a utility pole on Greenwoods Road East in Norfolk, causing electrical wires to fall on and near the vehicle, trapping the two people inside.

While Eversource attempted to “de-energize” the area remotely between the time of the accident and 2:40 p.m., officials said the area had to continue being treated as energized until Eversource personnel arrived at the scene, according to the decision. In fact, the decision indicates that one of the two wires had remained energized because a fuse had failed to open via remote efforts.

Eversource had four specialists in the area at the time. Three were responding to other events at distances of 32.1 miles, 21.7 miles, and 17 miles from the crash, and one was on standby 26.6 miles from the accident. The specialist on standby was assigned to the incident and arrived around 3:17 p.m.

By 3:30 p.m. the specialist had de-energized the remaining hot wire and moved both wires off the motor vehicle and away from the scene, allowing the Norfolk Volunteer Fire Department to begin extracting the two people from the vehicle at at 3:31 p.m., completing the extractions at 3:44 p.m. and 3:47 p.m.

One individual was transported by ambulance to a nearby trauma center, and the other by Life Star helicopter. Both individuals had suffered minor injuries.

“The failure to promptly assign a Response Specialist, when coupled with the Company’s failure to assign the nearest or fastest available Response Specialist, likely delayed Eversource’s overall response to the Accident by approximately 25 minutes and may have subjected the entrapped individuals to potentially life-threatening injuries,” according to the draft decision.

While Eversource is required to send an “Immediate Accident Report” to PURA within 24 hours of the discovery of the accident and a Five-Day Accident Report within five business days, according to the draft decision, Eversource did not provide the immediate report until around 72 hours afterward on January 20. 

The Five-Day Report came in on January 27, according to the draft, or eight business days after the accident. In such cases PURA can fine Eversource up to $500 for each instance for failure to report an accident  in a timely manner, a move it will consider in a separate decision.

Norfolk Fire Chief Matthew Ludwig contacted Eversource the day after the accident to express his concerns about Eversource’s response.

“In the Norfolk Fire Department’s letter, the Fire Chief reported that when the Norfolk Fire Department, Norfolk Ambulance, and Medic 6 arrived at the scene of the Accident, the individuals trapped inside the motor vehicle, which was smoking, had multiple injuries requiring transportation to a hospital via Life Star,” according to PURA’s draft decision. “The Fire Chief also reported that one of the two Life Star helicopters requested by the first responders had to cancel due to the prolonged extrication and a weather event entering the area.”

Emergency responders further explained that they strive to extricate people within the first 10 minutes after an accident.

In a brief filed in May, Eversource countered that it responds as soon as it can “in a safe manner with the best, fastest available resource, given the circumstances on geographic proximity and availability; conveyed that the passage of time was due to the travel time of this resource and not a lack of urgency.”

Eversource further explains in the brief that not every company representative is a trained line worker and qualified to touch the wires.

“Eversource aims to respond to Priority 1 events as soon as possible, in the safest possible manner, and with the best, fastest available resource, given the circumstances of geographic proximity and availability,” the brief states. “The evidentiary record developed in this proceeding supports the conclusion that Eversource’s emergency response actions met this standard and that Eversource’s communications with Town officials were appropriate. The Company also strongly opposes the imposition of time-related targets or standards, which would be contrary to this standard.”

PURA will vote on a final decision in August.