McBride Electric trucks patrolled debris-filled Kansas City-area streets like Red-Cross vehicles last Friday. All through an eerie, windless Wednesday night, ice-encrusted trees and tree branches had cracked and crashed to the ground, knocking out power and damaging homes and vehicles.
That’s why McBride, and other service electrical contractors, were needed on Jan. 31.
“Primarily, we're rebuilding services entrances,” said Robin Yessen, division manager for the five-year-old Lenexa branch of McBride, a 51-year-old national electrical contractor headquartered in San Diego. "A lot of meter housings have been pulled away from homes. KCP&L (one of the local electrical utilities) asked us to bring the meter housings back to Code, with the mast riser and weatherhead on top."
By Feb. 5, a full week after the ice-storm started, tens of thousands of area homes still remained without power.
The ice storm not only knocked out power, but confused Kansas City homeowners, who wondered who to call for electrical repair work. Most didn’t know where the utility's domain ended and a contractor's domain began. KCP&L said that the meter housing and installation is the homeowner’s responsibility. Meanwhile, other area utilities replaced damaged meter housings, but told homeowners to hire private contractor to do the installation.
“My biggest concern is no one knows if the equipment's been compromised,” said Yessen. Are the lugs damaged? Is the drop from the utility damaged? Is a loose fitting going to cause arcing and sparking? The problem may not be apparent once the electricity's turned on.”
Yessen said desperate attempts to restore power led to too much crossover work between contractors and utility workers. Both utility people and utility subcontractors are performing work that they normally don’t do.
“We believe homeowners should call a reputable contractor out to inspect a utility quick fix," he said. “In one case, a utility contractor had wired around a meter. Electricity creates heat that will cause failure over time, so bad repairs may not be apparent immediately. If a limb hits a cable, that's a pretty violent act. Potentially, it causes damage. If the service has been pulled off the home--down to the breaker panel--lugs in the panel could be damaged. We've seen a dozen cases like this since Friday."