By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — Crackle, pop, bang!
The sounds and light flashes of electricity passing through power lines prompted oohs and aahs from about 100 fourth-graders watching a demonstration at the NYSEG offices in Oneonta on Wednesday.
“Do it again, do it again!” one student cried out.
Three utility workers obliged, presenting different scenarios about the nature and dangers of electricity.
The demonstrations featured pops of bright arcs, sparks or zips of pure white light, not unlike a fireworks show. A few children covered their ears in anticipation, and many chattered after the mini-blasts.
But the messages from NYSEG workers were serious — electricity isn’t a toy and can be dangerous. Presenters repeated the warnings as often as the entertaining examples: Don’t play with power lines, they said, and stay away from downed electrical lines.
“Wires down happen a lot,” Kevin Maddalone, a NYSEG line chief, said. Storms cause damage to power lines, and water can be an invisible conductor of electricity, he said. In case of an emergency or accident, Maddalone urged pupils to seek assistance from police at the scene.
“Go to the cop,” he said. “You know you’ll be in a safe spot.”
The students’ field trip to the New York State Electric and Gas Corp. offices on Country Club Road included a 45-minute video and a demonstration that lasted about an hour, with plenty of time for questions. Students attending Wednesday were from Delaware Academy Central School in Delhi and the Oneonta City School District.
NYSEG in Oneonta has offered the demonstrations for 15 years, reaching an about 7,500 students, Clayton Ellis, spokesman for the utility, said Wednesday.
Maddalone, Al Shaver and Dave Simmons, three NYSEG workers who collectively have more than 95 years of experience, teamed up to show the impact of electrical dangers.
Maddalone was the main speaker, and Shaver and Simmons conducted the demonstrations at a mobile unit with utility poles and wires that replicated a setup on a community street.
Maddalone explained facets of the power-line display and how electricity passed through the system. He flipped switches to turn on light bulbs and manage the power as his co-workers used poles to touch live wires at different times with a glove, a boot, a mock squirrel and other items.
“Trees are our No. 1 reason for outages,” Maddalone said.
Ann Carnrike, a customer service supervisor in Oneonta, asked students if they should get water to put out an electrical fire.
“No,” the pupils replied in chorus.
“Right,” Carnrike said, adding that water can conduct electricity. “Call the fire department.”
To reach high wires and clamps, workers use 8-foot poles, which in previous years were made of wood but now are fiberglass, Maddalone said. Presenters also demonstrated use of protective gloves, hats and rubber sleeves.
“Most important,” Maddalone said, “we have our training.”
Kathy King, customer service manager, started the local demonstration program 15 years ago, said Carnrike, who currently arranges sessions. Not as many schools sign up for visits as in past years, because cuts to district budgets mean fewer field trips, Carnrike said.
The demonstration program also is offered to adults, NYSEG officials said, and the Oneonta Fire Department was scheduled to attend a session Wednesday afternoon.
On Wednesday morning, Shaver and Simmons moved deliberately and carefully as they set items against the live wires. Simmons said he also was watching pupils’ reactions to see if lessons were getting across.
“You can see the expression in the crowd — you know that you’re making a point,” Simmons said. “Fourth grade is a good time to do it. They’re very impressionable.”
Andrew Carrington, 10, a fourth-grader at Riverside Elementary School in Oneonta, said the demonstration was “very good.”
“I thought it was very educational,” Andrew said. “It taught us a lot of safety tips.”