High Street accident highlights response time of local services

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The Elkader fire and police departments, along with Alliant Energy, responded in smooth coordination the evening of Nov. 9, after a grain trailer struck and broke a utility pole on High Street.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

 

At around 5:25 p.m. Nov. 9, a call came in to the Elkader Police Department, received by police chief Mitch Seitz. As events unfolded from that moment, it was a scene to remember on High Street in Elkader.  

 

According to the report received by Seitz, a grain trailer hit a telephone pole near Everett’s Service, so he immediately asked dispatch to contact the fire department and headed to the scene, where the grain trailer was sitting next to the broken pole. As Seitz investigated the scene, he noticed the pole was cracked all the way up and split at the point of impact, but, luckily, no power lines were down. 

 

According to Seitz and Elkader firefighter Tony Koppes, the cause of the accident was a catastrophic equipment failure, as the “hitch broke” on the grain wagon, sending it careening about 50 feet into the pole. The driver of the tractor said he heard a “loud noise, looked back and the trailer wasn’t there,” said Seitz. 

 

At that point, the decision was made to block the road to thru traffic at Gunder and Plum, due to the unknown stability of the pole and wires connected to it. The fire department arrived on scene shortly after 5:30 p.m., and assumed the lead role in traffic control. The conversation then turned to removing the trailer, which Seitz was against due to the integrity of the pole and the houses in the vicinity. 

 

Additionally, as Koppes pointed out, the fire department wasn’t trained for high voltage scenarios, so the decision was made to wait until Alliant Energy arrived on the scene to complete its own assessment.  

 

After Alliant arrived, which, according to all reports, was rather quickly, it was determined no lines were down and the pole posed no danger to surrounding buildings. The trailer could and needed to be pushed off the pole so Alliant could replace it. 

 

Koppes said about 10 to 15 members of the fire department pushed the trailer—still full of grain—off the pole by hand. It was then hooked to a wrecker from Everett’s and moved off site, where the grain was removed with assistance of a grain vac provided by Innovative Ag Services.  

 

Operations manager Dustin Mohs provided details of what Alliant did upon arriving on scene. First, the crew checked the wires for damage and determined they were “still hot.” It was confirmed that only two locations lost power for about three hours. 

 

The first priority for Alliant was making sure the scene was safe prior to removing the pole, which required a call to Emergency Locate. As Mohs said, you have to “call before you dig,” in an effort to avoid hitting fiber, gas or water lines. During that assessment, it was determined Alliant could not use an auger to widen the hole to put the new pole in, but had to use shovels instead. 

 

Replacing the pole was a process that also required disconnecting and reconnecting the lines and restoring the power supply, but according to Mohs, this was done with little difficulty. Another positive was the condition of the line and pole that was struck, which Mohs said was still in “good shape.” It was this fact that prevented the loaded grain trailer from knocking out the power supply to even more houses. 

 

The cost to replace the pole, which Mohs estimated between $1,000 and $10,000 depending on multiple factors, would not be passed to the city, but the party responsible for hitting the pole. 

 

Alliant officially left the scene around 11 p.m., with Mohs complimenting the fire and police departments.

 

“Everything went great. Everyone knows what they’re doing. We’ve got a good relationship with the community and it showed Wednesday night,” Mohs said.   

 

Koppes stated there were no issues with traffic during the process of replacing the pole, with four members of the department utilized. After Alliant left the scene, the fire department’s work wasn’t quite finished, as firefighters had to secure the scene for safety and use the city sweeper to clean up the grain that spilled onto the highway. 

 

According to Koppes, the department officially left the scene around 11:30 p.m., and opened the road to normal traffic.  

 

Seitz said the incident resulted in no injuries or citations, due to it being equipment failure rather than driver error.

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