Providers prep for increased power outages

‘It seems a bit aggressive, but I understand their stance’
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Friday, October 4, 2019

REDDING, Calif. – With the fall wildfire season underway in California, HME providers are making sure their oxygen therapy patients are prepared to be without power more often.

For the first time, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and other electric companies say they plan to cut off power to certain areas when the fire risk is deemed high, generally due to high winds.

“SoCal has come out and said, ‘If we have something that might stress the power lines, we are just shutting it down,’” said Glenn Steinke, president of Bishop-based Airway Medical. “I am putting together a handout with emergency and shelter numbers. We’ve also told them to contact their power companies to get on a list, so they would be notified first of any anticipated outages.”

Already on Sept. 24, PG&E cut power to 24,000 customers in three counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills due to windy, dry and hot conditions that could spark wildfires, according to news reports.

A big reason there will be more precautionary power outages: In the wake of last year’s deadly fire season, Pacific Gas & Electric filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing more than $50 billion in liabilities related to the Camp Fire, which killed 86 people last November.

“I think PG&E has to do something—they are under such scrutiny,” said Tammy Miller, operations manager for Redding-based Owens Healthcare. “Is it going to help? I don’t know. (We had fires recently) that were caused by thunderstorm lightning. It seems a bit aggressive to (cut power when the winds are up), but I understand their stance.”

Even in cases where there is no fire, if the power is shut down, it can take several days for it to go back on, says Steinke.

“They can’t just flip a switch,” he said. “Every inch of that line has to be manually inspected and then they can fire it back up. It could take some time.”

Provider Todd Usher says having all of his patients on portable oxygen concentrators helps when power is cut off.

“We have told (patients) who have called us, ‘You are self-sufficient,’” said Usher, owner of Modesto-based Home Oxygen Company. “Nobody has to rely on tanks from us. If someone is evacuated or in a brownout area, they can go to the nearest Red Cross or fire station and plug in.”

Miller said residents in her community were impacted by last year’s Carr Fire, which killed six people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.

“That definitely changed the mentality in our area,” she said. “We have just instructed our patients to have their backup tanks full. Basically, when the power is out, you need to have a place to go. We’ll provide the oxygen you need to get you where you need to go, if they cut power for several days.”