What is Contact Voltage?

The IEEE (commonly referred to as the “I triple E”) is the world’s preeminent technology association. The IEEE generates technical standards that are applied by utilities and other industries around the world The IEEE working group on contact voltage has defined the term contact voltage as seen below:

“Contact Voltage” Definition: A voltage resulting from power system faults which may be present between two conductive surfaces that can be simultaneously contacted by members of the general public or their animals. Contact voltage is not related to the normal delivery or use of electricity, and can exist at levels that may be hazardous.
Sammy’s tragedy was clearly caused by contact voltage which is the same issue seen on the east coast.

To further explain this serious issue, (it’s not easy reading, but for me, it’s worth looking over to understand public electrical safety better), I invite you take a look at a link to the Ontario Electric Safety Authority’s website as well as 3 presentations from their recent Street Lighting Symposium.
As you can see from the presentations…. This is not a new issue or one unique to Canada/East coast, in fact this is the exact same danger that killed Sammy. The only difference is the Ontario people are trying to solve the problem, while Seattle would prefer to call it a “freak” incident.


Presentation 1: ESA – Street Light Symposium ESA Investigations

Presentation 2: THESL – Toronto Hydro Street Lighting Experience

Presentation 3: PSC – Stray Voltage in the Public Landscape

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Seattle City Light responds to Thanksgiving Day death of Queen Anne dog

Seattle City Light has issued a release in response to the tragic death of Sam, a neighborhood dog who was electrocuted and passed away after stepping onto a metal plate on Queen Anne Ave N on Thanksgiving while on a walk with his owner.

Sammy’s owner and Queen Anne resident Lisa McKibbin and her mother Nancy Bostdorff were heartbroken over the ordeal, and have taken to spreading awareness about stray voltage in city streets in the hopes of preventing future accidents involving pets, children, and adults.

In an open letter from Seattle City Light released today Superintendent Jorge Carrasco said the following:

On Thanksgiving, a dog was electrocuted on Queen Anne Avenue when it came into contact with a metal plate covering some electrical wires for four streetlights. This was a tragic incident and devastating for the family that owned the dog. We are truly sorry for their loss of a beloved family member. I want to assure the public that as soon as City Light was made aware of the situation, we responded by de-energizing the electrical service.

Our crews investigated the cause. We discovered that the original installation in 2006 did not include proper grounding of the four lights. Our crews have made the necessary repairs to all these lights and tested for any potential electrical charges. There is no electrical charge to any of the lights or groundcover plates. All the streetlights are functioning.

We want the public to be assured that this was an isolated incident. We are researching our records to determine whether there are similar lights elsewhere in our system. If we find there are, they will be inspected and any necessary repairs will be made immediately.

Despite word from City Light that repairs have been made to insure the safety of this particular groundcover plate, for Lisa and Nancy this is hardly enough.

“For four years these lights have not been grounded! Doesn’t anyone know the ABCs of electricity?” Nancy wrote to QueenAnneView.

Since we first reported the story on Saturday, the comments have erupted with condolences for Lisa and Nancy, and stories from fellow community members and pet owners who have experienced similar incidences in Queen Anne and elsewhere.

“I used to live back East, and every winter there were certain street corners that every dog seemed to avoid. My 100 pound beast would buck and fight if I tried to go near it. At first I thought he was just being stubborn, but about a week after his strange behavior, a dog in DC died from electrocution on the same corner. I learned to trust my dog,” Dana wrote.

Stories of these types of accidents are, unfortunately, nothing new. In January 2004 a 30-year-old woman in New York City died after stepping on a metal plate that had been electrified by a faulty underground cable. Her father took to fighting the hazard that took her life. Read that story in the New York Times archives here.

And here in Seattle the incidences, though not as horrifying as Sammy’s story, are pouring in. One reader, in fact, says their dog was shocked at the same site.

“It turns out our Labrador was once shocked on that same block. She yelped and moved, and my husband tried to check for stray voltage, not sure what had happened, but couldn’t tell what the problem was. Now we know for sure what happened,” Neens wrote.

“The day before Thanksgiving my oldest son (30) and his friend were walking my dog in West Seattle when he stepped on the same type plate and started writhing and yelping. He fell over and my son thought he had stepped on something sharp, possibly even been scared by the cold metal on his paw. After a few moments our cocker spaniel, Max, was able to stand and they brought him home. Since this, he has been limping when he walks a great deal and is very timid when he goes for walks. After seeing the news story tonight, we knew what had made Max fall over and act so strangely,” Sue Wilhelm wrote. “I applaud you for getting the word out about this “unseen” danger that we all come upon every day on our city streets. What a tragic way to be educated though. I shudder at the thought of this happening to any other person or pet.”

Lisa doesn’t think Seattle City Light’s response is enough either. “I don’t think Sam’s incident was “an isolated incident” as described by SCL,” Lisa says. “I still attribute his death to contact voltage which is defined as:

Contact voltage is caused by power system fault current as it flows through the impedance of available fault current pathways. The voltage we are trying to define (i.e. contact voltage) is only present when a power system fault exists (e.g. compromised insulation). The fault may be a very high impedance fault with very little fault current actually flowing, but it is still a fault, and still capable of creating measurable voltage between conductive surfaces that people or their animals may contact. This is true regardless of the type of power system (e.g. grounded, un-grounded, etc.). Clearly both the level of contact voltage and the amount of fault current will change when a person or animal makes contact, but this guide should be about the detection, evaluation, and mitigation necessary to avoid a potentially lethal exposure.

Lisa says she plans to continue her efforts to bring awareness, ensure public safety, and work “very hard to see that this type of tragedy will not happen again.”

“I have been receiving blog entires from people who say their dogs have received shocks from other parts of the city. John, owner of Oslo’s, now believes his dog was electriaclly shocked just one day prior to Sammy’s death. Oslo thankfully didn’t have the same fate, but was still affected. John showed me his boots, after stepping on the sidewalk to pick up Oslo after he was convulsing and screeching, the heel is completely shot, rubber sole has been melted and cracked! Oslo was about 25 ft from where Sam died, after what is now believed to be electric shock. John had no idea, much like me, this is why I need to spread this awareness and not fear, just awareness.”

A representative from Seattle City Light will be at the Queen Anne Community Council meeting tonight to discuss this tragedy further with the community. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the McClure Middle School cafeteria. Take a look at the agenda here.

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My Dearest Sammy……

It has been four days since I last saw you, since our last walk together…I know you’re in Heaven by now, I hope it is filled with those rascally wabbits you so wanted to chase while we hiked through Discovery Park, or maybe you are swimming after the ducks and gulls that you always fixated on while we walked along the Sound. I wanted to tell you again, I will say this everyday until I die, how much I love you and how much you meant to me. Even when you were alive, I told you everyday I loved you and that you were my sweet boy. I used to ask you all the time, “Sammy, how did you get so sweet”? You would always gaze up at me with your big beautiful brown eyes. I knew what you were saying. You were saying, “I’m sweet, because I know how much you love me, you love me a ton”. Yes, you always knew how special you were and still are to me, no matter what. I’ve been asking myself what I miss most about you. I still cannot answer this question, because you had so many wonderful and beautiful personality traits and characteristics, but you also know how handsome you were. You drove all the ladies crazy, remember how so many people would pull over and say how beautiful and handsome you are? Goodness, I thought maybe you’d become conceited after all of these compliments, but you never did, you were only happy to be alive and with us. I will miss the way you purred, your howling at the phone’s ringtone when it would ring, racing in yard until your ears would be turned inside out and I would tell you, “Sammy, fix your hair, silly”. I will miss how you used to smile at me every time I’d walk through the door, I will miss you curled up with me, your playfulness, goofy, loveliness, craziness, intelligence, kindness, sweetness, gentleness, energy, our special hikes and trips together……and more. You were the best thing that happened to me and my life, I have always said you were my soul mate, our friend Charlie calls us, “kindred spirits” and that we had a beautiful relationship. Oh, Sammy I do hope you know that I am missing you so much, and I’m so sorry this terrible tragedy took your life so painfully and too soon. My goal was to always protect you and I felt like I didn’t protect you enough, perhaps you were protecting me this time and it is so like you to do this, you always gave me so much and looked after me. You are a true angel. I always said, “God is Dog, Dog is God”. I love you so much monkey-man, little man, my buddy. I know how much you loved me calling you these little pet names. I miss you and will always remember our great special times together. Together, we are going to help others be safe and protect other four-legged best friends so that they can live a great full life. You loved people and you loved other dogs, I know you would want me to spread the word and make others aware of what you went through, because it can happen again and to anyone and their beloved pets. I will do this for you Sammy. I will be thinking and dreaming of you….Please be safe, I know you are. I love you, buddy. Love, me

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Seattle Times:Dog electrocuted from Seattle sidewalk power plate

Lisa McKibbin had never heard of the term “contact voltage” until her German shorthair pointer was electrocuted Thanksgiving Day

“He was totally healthy, at the height of his career. It’s a bizarre death. It was noon on Thanksgiving, and me and my dog were doing our daily walk,” she says about Sammy, the 6-year-old, 68-pound dog.

“Then he just started screeching and yelping in pain. I thought he had stepped on something sharp. Then he just started convulsing and collapsed.
Lisa McKibbin had never heard of the term “contact voltage” until her German shorthair pointer was electrocuted Thanksgiving Day when he stepped on a metal plate by a lamppost.

“He was totally healthy, at the height of his career. It’s a bizarre death. It was noon on Thanksgiving, and me and my dog were doing our daily walk,” she says about Sammy, the 6-year-old, 68-pound dog.

“Then he just started screeching and yelping in pain. I thought he had stepped on something sharp. Then he just started convulsing and collapsed.

“I reached out to help him, and he was in so much pain that he bit my thumb. I was screaming, ‘Somebody help me! Oh, my God, I don’t know what’s happening with my dog!’ ”

A man performed CPR on the dog’s chest, says McKibbin, and someone else opened Sammy’s mouth to try and help.

There was enough electricity still in Sammy that the person got a shock from inside the dog’s mouth.

The same thing happened to McKibbin.

“It was a good shock, like when you plug something into the wall and you get jolted,” she says.

She says there have been no contact-voltage incidents, from current that can be present on the surface of electrified outdoor structures, that she knows of in recent years.

Asked how such contact voltage would affect a human toddler who touched an electrified metal plate, Hartman says, “I can’t speculate.”

As far as Sammy, “We cannot bring the dog back. I feel terrible. I’m a dog owner,” Hartman says.

McKibbin can file a claim with the city and says she will be talking to an attorney.

McKibbin, 43, was laid off as an account manager and is living with her mother and another dog.

She says the death of Sammy has cost her $1,300 so far.

She and her mother, Nancy Bostdorff, drove Sammy to an emergency clinic, which McKibbin says charged some $900 for various services in trying to revive the dog. McKibbin says she had to do everything she could to save Sammy even though she believes he died rather quickly after stepping on the plate.

McKibbin then will pay an additional $432 to have Sammy cremated; she plans to spread his ashes in Discovery Park and various places where he liked to run.

McKibbin has started a blog (sammysbigheart.wordpress.com) and has posted photos of Sammy and written, “He was my best friend, my soul mate.”

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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KING 5 News-Dog believed electrocuted by Seattle City Light plate

SEATTLE — Lisa McKibbin had her dog Sammy out for a walk in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood on Thanksgiving when the unthinkable happened.

McKibbin and Sammy were walking on Queen Anne Avenue North outside Bricco Wine Bar when Sammy stepped on an electric plate near a Seattle City Light lamp post. The dog received a jolt of electricity and died a short time later.

“That dog was like my child,” said McKibbin, choking back tears. “Sammy was the sweetest dog you could ever imagine. I just don’t want this to ever happen to anyone else.”

Power to the pole has been shut down but there are concerns that if it could kill a dog, it could also harm a human.

A representative from Seattle City Light said crews would be on the scene Monday examining the equipment.

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Two More Cases of Electric Shock on Dogs?

I was terribly saddened this morning to learn about Sammy’s death and the incident on Thursday. It is doubly painful, since on Wednesday morning, Oslo and I walked to work due to the snow, we wanted to toss our doggie waste in the garbage a bit south of ProRobics on the east side of the Avenue, we then crossed the street, stepping onto the sidewalk right in front of ProNails. Suddenly Oslo fell to the ground and started yelping/screaming and twisting… I fell to my knees and comforted him, and I know in doing so, he slid further away from the metal plate on the ground. I recalled the metal plate as I looked around to see if there were any sharp items or even a grating he might have stepped on. I scooped him up in my arms and carried him into our store and sat with him until he stopped shaking … I realize now I made the unaware assumption that he just slid in the slush and off a piece of ice, and twisted his leg, when in fact, he probably received an electric shock.

We did head down to see Dr. Spencer, who upon examining him thought he might have pinched a nerve. Although I thought in the moment that he appeared to be oddly possessed, as he was convulsing, like a bolt of electricity, it did not completey come together in my head that he was recieving an electrical shock.

So now I am heartwrenched that I almost lost Oslo and unknowingly, never thought about voltage coming out of the submerged boxes. Oslo is okay, however we are all very, very sad about Sammy’s death on our block. Seattle City light have been out on the street today. Please keep us aware of your efforts over the next few weeks. I know how heavy your heart.

With sincere condolences,
John McDowell

John McDowell
**************From Queen Anne View Comments****************************
Comment: 16 neens // Nov 28, 2010 at 11:37 pm
I’m so sorry to hear about Sammy. It turns out our Labrador was once shocked on that same block. She yelped and moved, and my husband tried to check for stray voltage, not sure what had happened, but couldn’t tell what the problem was. Now we know for sure what happened.
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Q13 News Coverage of Sammy

An Afternoon Walk Turns Deadly For A Seattle Woman’s Beloved Dog

Pet Owner Says The Animal Was Electrocuted By Sidewalk Power Plate


A local dog owner speaks out after the love of her life is shocked to death on a Seattle sidewalk.  Lisa McKibbin has a warning for animal owners, also parents and their kids about the potential dangers lurking below their feet.   

“Sammy was the best boy in the world he was my baby he loved to go on walks,” said McKibbin.

But, a walk on Thanksgiving afternoon on Queen Anne turned out to be their last together.

“I couldn’t tell because he was just convulsing so much and just screeching I didn’t know what was happening and I was screaming for someone to help me,” said McKibbin.

Lisa says Sammy was killed after stepping on a metal power plate at the base of a light pole outside Bricco’s Wine Bar.

“I put my hand in Sam’s mouth and I felt a shock of the electric waves coming from his mouth and he said your dog has been electrocuted,” said McKibbin.

Lisa believes stray voltage killed him and she wants Seattle City Light to now inspect all of its plates and light poles.

“It is so painful to watch your dog die of such a horrific thing,” said McKibbin.

On Sunday Q13 Fox News talked with a bunch of dog owners on Queen Anne who say they’re now avoiding power plates because of what happened to Sammy.

Quyen Chan says City Light should make those inspections.

“This could probably happen anywhere else, they need to check this everywhere,” said Chan.

The power company calls this a tragic and freak accident.  And, in a statement to Q13 Fox News Wrote:

“Seattle City Light extends our sympathy to the Bostdorff and McKibbin families in the loss of their dog Sammy.  The electrical circuit feeding the streetlight has been disconnected.  Safety is our highest priority.  A Seattle City Light crew will be working on it Monday.”

The company says people should not worry about this happening again.

Lisa isn’t so sure she urges dog owners and people with children to avoid these power plates.

“I just don’t want anybody else to go through this,” said McKibbin.

Lisa has filed a Police report and plans to talk with Seattle City Light about Sammy’s death.  She’s even started a blog that talks about the dangers of stray voltage for people and animals.  Lisa says her vet is even going to talk with other vets about this deadly hazard.

To see the video, please go to this link:


// Copyright © 2010, KCPQ-TV

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