In his profession, Ivan Medina doesn’t have a weight problem.
And that’s music to the ears of Southern California Edison.
The reason that is important is the reason Medina, Paul Jeske, SCE’s director of Corporate Health and Safety, and Scott Brown, an SCE troubleman turned fire management officer, spoke this week about the power outages and safety hazards created by released balloons at Medina’s store in Lakewood.
Released intentionally or not, the balloons cause hundreds of power outages yearly for SCE — in fact, a record-high 1,094 last year that affected 1.4 million customers. And no other month, with its celebration of graduations leading the way, is usually worse than June.
“Free-floating metallic balloons that are released outdoors continue to be a problem and challenge for Southern California Edison,” said Jeske, noting that SCE experienced a one-month, all-time high of 191 outages last June. “Think about that, that’s six a day. This is a very important issue for us and these are very preventable outages.”
Weights — the best prevention — are paramount for Medina and his store won’t sell a balloon without one. Nor should any balloon seller. And he recommends extra weights to customers buying bunches.
In a store adorned predominantly with colorful graduation balloons of all sizes, Medina also recommended air-filled balloons, saying, “They are actually great. They do not require helium, meaning they will not float.”
Which is fine with Brown, who removed many metallic balloons from power lines during his nearly 14 years as an SCE troubleman. He cited a specific incident involving the flame-retardant SCE shirt he was wearing at the party store as an example of the hazards. While removing balloons from power lines once, the balloons caught fire and burning debris from them fell on his clothes.
“If I were wearing a cotton or polyester shirt, I probably would have suffered some significant burns, so they’re very, very dangerous not only to the public but our employees as well,” said Brown.
He also reiterated the safety and economic impact of adrift balloons, adding, “They cause outages, traffic signals are impacted, elevators are impacted, businesses are really impacted. So, it is very important that we keep a good handle on metallic balloons, keep them indoors and keep them tethered.”
Keeping them safely tied to a weight is part of SCE’s continued “Stay Aware. Stay Safe." campaign. SCE also supports state Assembly bill 2450. The bill, which has passed the Assembly and is now in the state Senate, would require in-state metallic balloon manufacturers to have a printed statement on balloons warning consumers about the dangerous risk of fire if the balloons come in contact with power lines.
And, if you see balloons in power lines, call 911 or SCE at 1-800-611-1911 to report the problem.
Though the warnings are serious, Jeske stressed that safety and nothing else is the top priority in his secure-is-safe message regarding metallic balloons.
“We’re not anti-balloon, we’re not party poopers,” said Jeske, noting that he has three metallic balloons from Mother’s Day and his wife’s birthday on his kitchen table. “All we want is for folks to understand what the risks are and to be responsible.”
Metallic Balloons Safety Tips
- Metallic balloons should always be tied to a weight.
- Stores and vendors should only sell properly weighted balloons.
- Balloon owners should never remove the weight
- Balloons should never be released outdoors.
- Do not try to retrieve balloons tangled in power lines or electrical equipment.
- Puncture balloons before disposing of them.