News Releases

Sierra Pacific Advises Pilots, Chase Crews on Power Line Safety

Aug 18, 1999

Sierra Pacific Power Company
Contact: Karl Walquist/Bob Sagan
Phone: (775) 834-4835

For Immediate Release

Sierra Pacific Power Company works behind the scenes during the Great Reno Balloon Race to ensure the safety of balloon pilots and their chase crews.

Electrical safety experts advise race participants on what they should do to protect themselves from power lines, and special precautions are taken to minimize hazards posed by electrical equipment. In addition, power company personnel are stationed near the launch site to provide immediate assistance in case of trouble.

"Every year we provide safety training during registration for the races," said Al Feleciano, public safety coordinator for Sierra Pacific."We review the safety procedures again for pilots and their chase crews at the launch site during their morning briefings, and we help make them aware of where our overhead power lines are located."

Pilots also get maps of the Reno-Sparks area, designed and produced by Sierra Pacific, that include detailed power line safety guidelines.

"Sierra Pacific provides both the race organizers and pilots with a high level of cooperation related to safety issues," said Koh Murai, a Reno balloonist who participates in the event. Besides educating pilots and chase crews about electrical safety, the utility actually modifies the operation of its electrical system to make the event safer, something done by few utilities in the U.S., Murai added.

"To minimize the hazards posed by power lines we modify the operation of our lines in the vicinity of Rancho San Rafael," Feleciano explained."During the races we operate the lines manually. If a line trips, we have someone make a physical inspection of that line before putting the circuit back in service. Normally, electrical circuits attempt to reset themselves automatically."

In addition, the affected circuits are"tagged" at nearby electrical substations with warnings that those particular circuits can be re-energized only after physical inspection to ensure the outage wasn't caused by a balloon coming into contact with a power line.

A Sierra Pacific troubleman is assigned to the launch site to respond to any power outages related to a balloon incident. The troubleman stays in radio contact with the utility's electric system control center located in the company's headquarters on Neil Road in Reno. This is the nerve center for Sierra Pacific's electric system, where system dispatchers monitor major electrical circuits and can switch them on or off with the click of a computer mouse.

According to Feleciano, the troubleman also advises the control center dispatchers on where the balloons are headed following the launch.

"The pilots who participate in the Great Reno Balloon Race are among the best in the nation and they take safety very seriously," Feleciano said, adding that no incidents involving power lines have ever occurred at the event.