Manhole Fire Caused Power Outage in Center

Thursday, March 1, 2012
By Joe Domelowicz

A fire in a manhole near the intersection of Revere Street and Governors Park late Sunday night is being blamed for a power outage that left more than 2,100 residents without power for approximately 16 hours Sunday night into Monday and forced the closing of two schools, Town Hall, the Police Station and Library.

However, the issue that had town officials scratching the their heads in the aftermath, was the lack of communication about the incident from National Grid to town officials in the immediate aftermath of the fire Sunday night.

“I don’t want to be too critical here, because National Grid was very responsive in getting to the scene and trying to restore power as quickly as they could, but the fact is that we didn’t know about the extent of this thing until about seven hours after it started and by that time we were scrambling to notify parents, teachers, and town workers and really just let people know what was going on,” explained Town Manager James McKenna. “I just think that it would’ve been helpful had we gotten a message earlier in the process.”

Dan Cameron, the National Grid operations director who responded to Winthrop and took control of the situation during the overnight hours Sunday night, explained that the situation evolved from a unique set of circumstances, but said the utility did everything it could to restore power as quickly as possible.

“The cause of the situation began when a circuit, an underground cable, went out at around 11 p.m. on Sunday night,” explained Cameron. “At about the same time we had a report that there was a fire in the manhole near the intersection of Revere Street and Governors Park, and that initial lost circuit and the fire caused a loss of power to about 500 customers in the immediate area.”

However, shortly after the fire was reported, the fire caused a second circuit to go down and National Grid later made the difficult decision to “de-energize” a third circuit in the manhole for safety reasons.

“It was tough for a while, because of the fire and for the safety of our crews, we couldn’t get into the manhole to assess the situation and develop a response plan for restoring power,” explained Cameron. “Again, this was a unique situation, because usually when we lose a circuit, that is the end of it and we can begin to try and restore power as soon as we can get to the problem.”

In this situation, the utility company’s response and assessment were delayed because of the fire, which then caused more than one circuit to go out.

According to Cameron, a small number of customers, about 200 homes, had power restored relatively quickly, once crews were able to access the manhole and switch some customers to other circuits. However, the majority of the 2,100 customers inconvenienced had to wait until about 3 p.m. on Monday afternoon to have their power fully restored, while a small fraction – about 30 homes – didn’t get power back until about 7 p.m. Monday night.

“Generally, we do our best to communicate early and often with our communities when something like this occurs and there are automated calls and other measures that perhaps could’ve been activated sooner,” said National Grid Media Relations Director Debbie Drew. “This was a unique situation and because of the multiple outages, notification were made at various times. We recognize that there was a problem and we are committed to looking into this and understanding how we can improve moving forward.”

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