As winter frays wires, pedestrians wary of ‘stray voltage’

stray voltage
Lauren Bahr walks her friend’s dog, Zeida, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Dogs are vulnerable to “stray voltage” on the city’s metal grates in winter months.
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro

Earlier this month, Meghan Serrano was taking her 48-pound border collie mix, Georgie-Girl, for a morning walk on Second Avenue in the East Village when the dog let out a horrible sound.

“All of a sudden she jumped and screamed and fell down,” Serrano said. “When she got up, she was limping and I had to carry her home.”

Georgie-Girl had been unfortunate enough to come into contact with a phenomenon known as stray voltage, or Con Edison’s preferred term, “contact voltage.” It occurs when poorly insulated cables leak power and electrify nearby objects — street signs, manhole covers, metal legs of park benches — and sometimes passersby and pooches in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Last week, an entire Chelsea block was shut down for several hours because of stray voltage. Earlier this month, an 11-year-old pit bull named Bella died after being electrocuted by a stray wire on the Lower East Side.

2nd Ave btwn 9 and 10 - Feb 2 2014
This image was taken about an hour after Con Edison confirmed the electrified sidewalk that shocked Meghan Serrano’s dog.
Credit: Meghan Serrano

Though Georgie-Girl suffered no lasting damage, two other dogs had been shocked by the time Serrano was able to contact Con Edison, which sent a crew to block off the site. A repairman told her that her dog had been shocked by 29 watts of voltage caused by improperly grounded scaffolding at a nearby construction site.

“The number of reported shocks tends to climb whenever we have winters with a lot of snow and ice like we did this year,” Con Edison spokesman Allan Drury said. “The reason is that the salt mixes with the snow and ice and corrodes the cables, and also conducts electricity.”

In an effort to combat shocks from contact voltage before they occur, the energy company keeps a fleet of trucks that roam the city at night with a sensor capable of detecting potentially dangerous voltage leaks.

image001
Trucks roam the streets of New York with a sensor designed to detect stray voltage.
Credit: Con Edison

“And when the truck gets a hit, we will stop and locate what is energized,” Drury said. “First, what we do is guard the area until a crew can get there to make repairs. We will guard the area even if it’s not coming from our equipment — for instance, street lights, which are owned by DLV.”

The trucks cover about 60,000 miles a year. In 2013, the energy company received 23 reports of shocks from Con Edison equipment, an 89 percent decrease from 2004, when the program started.

Still, New Yorkers should be on the lookout for cones and caution tape on the streets, which may be a sign that contact voltage has been detected.

Meanwhile, Serrano and Georgie-Girl will be navigating more carefully around the city — at least until the weather improves.

“We definitely avoid any scaffolding now,” Serrano said.

Follow Emily Johnson on Twitter @emilyjreports



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…

Local

NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…

Local

Bushwick community space offers activists a place to…

A new Bushwick community space offers community activists to meet, create, learn and throw back a few cold ones. MayDay, located 214 Starr Street in Bushwick,…

Local

Activists gearing up for Sunday's "historic" People's Climate…

If all goes according to plan, more than 100,000 people will gather near Central Park West on Sunday morning and march through midtown to raise…

Movies

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and a being called Emily get…

Esperanza Spalding is about to spiral off in a brand new direction that may or may include an alter ego named Emily.

Movies

Review: Bickering family dramedy 'This is Where I…

A talented cast sits Shiva in the bickering family dramedy "This is Where I Leave You," although it's more sap than yuks.

Movies

Review: Desert-walking movie 'Tracks' would be better as…

Mia Wasikowska walks 1700 miles across Australia's deserts in "Tracks," in a story that defies triumph-of-the-spirit cliches but gets some of them anyway.

NFL

J.J. Watt poses unique challenges to struggling Giants…

Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league, is the leader of a surprising Texans (2-0) team that has already matched last season’s win total.

NFL

Eric Decker 'unlikely to play' against Bears: Source

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker's status for Monday night’s game against the Bears is in doubt after he missed practice again Wednesday.

NFL

Preston Parker, not Odell Beckham, will replace Jerrel…

Tom Coughlin noted the next man up will be unheralded veteran Preston Parker.

NFL

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

Parenting

A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.

Style

3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…