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Balloon Sparks Power Outage, School Lock-Down

Police, ComEd, Evergreen Park residents and school officials Near 99th Street and Kedzie Avenue experienced a power outage Wednesday evening, because of a Mylar balloon.

Residents and visitors were at a standstill Wednesday as they waited for direction on how to safely escape an electric issue that happened in Evergreen Park.

Late yesterday afternoon a few mylar balloons sparked a power outage near 99th Street and Kedzie Avenue, that affected more than 1,000 schools, businesses and residents.

“Every year we try to remind the public that this happens,” said Bennie Currie, a spokesman with ComEd. “The surge and short circuit of the power line caused by the mylar balloons can cause a line to snap.”

Officials from ComEd said in a release Thursday that a total of 1,327 customers were without electricity for four hours Wednesday near the intersection.

“When mylar balloons touch a power line or float into substation equipment, their metallic properties cause a surge of electricity. This can cause equipment to short circuit and lead to power outages, fires and possible injuries,” said ComEd officials.

“It was very windy in some areas with the storm, and they (balloons) get away from you,” Currie said. “Those things are metallic. Metal and an electrical wire are not a good combination.”

According to Evergreen Park Police Department Capt. Gregory LeCompte, the department was without electricity, and so was his home in the village. But after getting advice from a ComEd official years ago, LeCompte bought a generator that he was able to use Wednesday to restore energy in his home.

As many students in the village were preparing to leave school late Wednesday afternoon, some had to stay in their buildings and await direction from administration until it was safe to go home.

Police said students, faculty and staff at Central Junior High School and Evergreen Park Community High School were forced to stay a little longer than the conventional school day.

“The kids were locked down until they could cut all of the cables, because there were wires down here and there. Then they turned the power off and the kids were able to go home,” said LeCompte. As a result, no individual was allowed to enter or exit campus grounds for about a half hour after school ended, he said.

LeCompte continued, “The power lines were down and they weren’t sure if the power was off, so they didn’t want anyone walking over any live power cables.”

Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124 officials said the outage knocked out the main power supply which supported phone lines and intercom systems within the school and the surrounding area. To get the message around, staff had to resort to old-school methods and deliver notes to each classroom, as the problem persisted.

“Our intercoms and phone lines went out, so we brought as many notes as we could,” said District 124 Superintendent Dr. Diane Cody at yesterday’s Board of Education meeting. 
 
Kathleen Rohan, District 124 Board president, said of the danger involved. “When the power goes down, the focus is the kids,” said Rohan. “We were concerned for everyone’s safety…I think that we did the best that we could.”
 
Cody said that because the village has experienced its fair share of power outages, the school board is planning to meet at a later date to discuss a better way to address the issue in the future.
 
“The infrastructure is very old,” said Cody so a collaborative effort is needed.

ComEd said that more than 4,000 ComEd customers have been affected by mylar balloon outages in the last two weeks. As graduation and outdoor events quickly approach, ComEd officials offered the following safety tips:

  • Keep balloons tethered at all times and attached to a weight.
  • When disposing of mylar balloons, make sure to puncture them to ensure lingering helium doesn’t cause them to float and blow around if the garbage container is overturned.
  • If a balloon or another toy becomes entangled in an overhead power line, don’t attempt to retrieve it. Instead, call ComEd at 800-EDISON-1 (800-334-7661).
  • Always assume power lines are live, and keep yourself, your equipment and all other items at least 10 feet away from power lines.

For more safety tips, visit www.ComEd.com.

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