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Wolfeboro power outage put Thanksgiving on hold for some

December 01, 2011
WOLFEBORO — Thanksgiving Eve is not a good time for power to go out, but then again, on the bright side, the temperatures throughout the night of Wednesday, Nov. 23, and into the next morning were cold but bearable through the 11 hours power was out.

Cooks had to put Thankgiving preparations on hold for the night during the town-wide outage, which lasted from around 7:15 p.m. to 6:15 a.m. "Power is never a guarantee," said Barry Muccio, Manager of the Wolfeboro Municipal Department, but "I have to admit it was bad timing on this one." Even his mother-in-law called him wondering when she could start her turkey for the family meal.

Phones rang at the Wolfeboro Police Department dispatch center from 7:20 p.m. to 7:50 a.m. the next day. After 650 calls, they stopped counting said Dispatch Supervisor Mia Lyons. Even if updates were available, the operators couldn't take the time to call out to the NH Electric Cooperative and the Cooperative did not call in. A police officer called the company with his cell phone to find out what he could.

"We had to text each other within the office to communicate," said Lyons, for the calls were unrelenting. Some callers were downright nasty, as well, which added to the pressure.

Sections of Tuftonboro and Ossipee were affected also, leading Public Service of New Hampshire to believe the problem was on their end. Line workers had to go off road and trek through snowy woods to search miles of line, flashlights in hand, and isolate one section at a time. By around 3:30 a.m., still unable to locate the source of the problem, it was the Wolfeboro crew's turn to do the same. "We found it by 4 a.m.," said Muccio. "It took about two and a half hours to repair once we found it."

A cross arm had split and fallen the result of a combination of the weight of the snow and its age, according to Muccio who explained further, "A wire came off the insulator and burned in half."

Tuftonboro Fire and Rescue Chief Adam Thompson said that his department had one medical emergency related to the outage that required transport to Huggins Hospital, involving respiratory problems when the individual's oxygen machine went off. He reported that power was back on at 3 a.m. in Tuftonboro.

Wolfeboro's Deputy Fire Chief Tom Zotti, who said he fielded a couple dozen calls that went over to his department's line, reported three incidents directly related to the power disruption: two people received assistance switching to their emergency oxygen supplies and the department responded to a generator fire.

Zotti strongly recommends that residents with serious medical needs consider installing back-up generators and suggested that every home have a cell phone to maintain communication in the event of emergencies.

The public safety building can provide a temporary safe haven and the town has a plan to follow; fortunately, the power went back on, avoiding further distress and ensuring that holiday plans could proceed.

The text of the Wolfeboro Municipal Electric Department's statement on the incident follows:

"Customers of the Wolfeboro Municipal Electric Department experienced a town-wide outage on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 23 at approximately 7:15 p.m.

"Based on the widespread nature of the outage within surrounding communities, the initial indication was that the problems were located on the section of the 390 line owned and maintained by PSNH. The 390 Line is located off-road within a right-of-way, which is the sole source of power to all of Wolfeboro's electrical substations. Upon an outage, each section of this line must be patrolled in order to locate the cause of the problem prior to re-energizing. This entails the walking of several miles of off-road right-of-way and inspecting all poles and conductors for probable damage. The time of day and the snow conditions certainly delayed these troubleshooting efforts.

"The actual damage was not discovered until 4 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 24. and through patrolling was determined to be located within Wolfeboro's service area. A pole cross-arm had split under the weight of snow and caused one of the conductors to fall from its insulator and ultimately burn down. Once discovered, Wolfeboro's Line Crews made the required repairs and dispatched PSNH to re-energize at approximately 6:15 a.m.

"The Municipal Electric Department has been in contact with the PSNH regarding a proposal to install new fault indicators at various locations to reduce the troubleshooting response time in the future. A meeting has been scheduled with PSNH in order to review the outage and procedures of coordination between our two utilities in an effort improve future reliability of the 390 Line.

"The Municipal Electric Department would like to thank its customers for their patience and understanding, as the timing on the night before Thanksgiving was not very convenient for many."

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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