February 19, 2014 7:49 pm -

021914fdnyToo much precipitation + way too much road and sidewalk salt + an underground electrical infrastructure that’s about five decades overdue for overhaul = Con Edison came close to zapping a whole lot of people in midtown Manhattan:

Several blocks of Sixth Avenue in the 20s are currently closed off to drivers and pedestrians due to an electrical malfunction that’s sending stray voltage into sidewalk grates and doorknobs of nearby buildings.

The FDNY was called to the scene shortly after 11:30 a.m., and officials have restricted access to Sixth Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets. (A spokesman tells us an additional block or two of Sixth Ave has also been closed in both directions.) The problem appears to have started much earlier; Con Ed spokesman Alan Drury tells us a truck conducting a “stray voltage scan” at 4 a.m. detected “a single volt on a grating” on the east side of Sixth Avenue. As it happens, Con Ed has several of these trucks that “roam the street at night detecting stray voltage,” Drury explains.

Emergency trucks were dispatched by Con Ed to the location, but after this morning’s rain Drury says “the area that was energized expanded. Doorknobs and other grates were energized.” Workers detected stray voltage of up to 44 volts, which he describes as “definitely dangerous.” The east side of the street was cordoned off, and a crew is currently working to “find the source of the stray voltage and make it safe.”

No injuries have been reported, which is fortunate. Over the weekend, a dog was electrocuted by a stray wire on the Lower East Side. Dangerous stray voltage is not uncommon this time of year, when the rock salt turns the snow into salt water, which seeps into the underground distribution system and degrades the wiring. “Salt water,” Drury adds, “is an excellent conductor of electricity.”

Let’s hope Mayor DeBlasio starts talking about that whole concept of returning public utilities to the public sector.

D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.