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Latrobe’s street lamp installation uncovers wiring safety concerns

Jeff Himler
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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Citing safety concerns, City of Latrobe officials want to replace or place a cover over the electric wires dangling along this streetlight pole that caught on fire on Nov. 14, 2018, at Weldon and Ligonier streets.Citing safety concerns, City of Latrobe officials want to replace or place a cover over the electric wires dangling along this streetlight pole that caught on fire on Nov. 14, 2018, at Weldon and Ligonier streets.
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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Recently installed decorative street lamps line Main Street, north of Ligonier Street, Nov. 28, 2018, in Latrobe.
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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Recently installed decorative street lamps line Depot Street, just south of Jefferson Street, Nov. 28, 2018, in Latrobe.
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Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Jarod Trunzo, executive director of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, speaks at a Latrobe Council meeting on Nov. 26, 2018, while holding damaged electrical wiring uncovered during installation of new street lamps in downtown Latrobe.

A short-circuit fire on a downtown streetlight sparked Latrobe officials to ensure the safety of the peculiarly wired pole and could lead to crews checking other downtown poles and wiring.

The pole in question — a 30-foot, cobra-style aluminum light standard in front of the National Church Residences’ Laurel Highlands Village senior housing at Ligonier and Weldon streets — recently caught fire as West Penn Power meters were installed for shorter, decorative street lamps the city is putting up along several streets.

“The problem that we had was particular to that pole,” West Penn Power spokesman Todd Meyers said.

Work done on Nov. 14 caused wiring in the pole to short out, catching fire to a protective covering over a wire that runs vertically along the outside of the pole, city manager Wayne Jones said. After the fire was doused, the wiring was repaired, but the covering was not replaced, he said.

The pole is safe following the repair, Meyers said.

“We don’t expect to see anything like that on replacing the rest of the lights,” he said. “We’ll certainly keep our heads up and be on guard.”

“It was a one-in-a-million type thing,” Jones said.

Still, city officials want to make sure the public is safe — especially children and families who will be in downtown Latrobe on Saturday for holiday festivities, including Holly Jolly Christmas activities and Santa’s Party in the Park. Mayor Rosie Wolford expressed concerns that a child could pull on the exposed wire.

“Let’s get this pole fixed this week,” Wolford said.

Jones talked to contractor Schultheis Electric on Tuesday. By Friday, the wires will either be covered or replaced, he said.

Schultheis has installed about a third of the 57 new LED-illuminated street lamps, which are funded by local foundation grants and about $18,000 from the city, Jarod Trunzo, executive director of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, told council Monday.

In the process, the contractor, working in cooperation with West Penn Power, encountered some areas where underground power lines the city installed decades ago had been severed by more recent work on the streets, Trunzo said. Instead of excavating to repair the breaks, the streetlights had been restrung with overhead wiring.

That appeared to be the case with the pole at Ligonier and Weldon, which is connected to a traffic signal at the intersection.

Wolford suggested the city hire an electrical consultant to inspect the downtown wiring in order to identify any other safety concerns and to devise a plan for gradually returning all power lines underground.

“We need a proactive plan,” she said. “We need to keep it on the front burner.”

Jim Okonak, board member with the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, expressed similar safety concerns. He said the organization, though partnering with the city on funding and planning for the new street lamps, has asked to be held harmless for any hazards discovered in the city-owned infrastructure.

He pointed out that the city expects to realize annual energy savings of about $60,000 because of the increased efficiency of the new LED lights. He suggested those savings could be used to address safety concerns and help restore underground power lines.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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