Calif. officials say man using oxygen tank died within minutes of PG&E power shutoff

Dalek

Member
Oct 25, 2017
13,251

The family of a northern California man who died within minutes of power being cut to his home blamed the planned power outage for his death, as he required an oxygen tank to breathe, Fox40 reports.

Fire officials from the El Dorado County town of Pollock Pine say the man, identified by Fox40 as 67-year-old Robert Mardis Sr., died approximately 12 minutes after PG&E cut power to his home on Wednesday.

His family members told reporters that Mardis used an oxygen tank because he suffered from COPD and congestive heart failure. Fire officials said he was wearing his oxygen mask when he was found unresponsive.

Mardis was one of 2 million residents across central and northern California left without electricity after PG&E shut power off in anticipation of high dry winds that create perfect environments for wildfires.

The move has been highly controversial in the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom blamed the need for planned outages on the company's "greed" and "mismanagement."

Mardis's family told Fox40 that his electric oxygen tank lost power while he was sleeping and he was trying to get his back-up, battery-operated oxygen tank when he lost consciousness. Family members reportedly tried performing CPR, but paramedics pronounced Mardis dead shortly after they arrived on the scene.
The Bee reports that Newsom called the death "devastating beyond words."

“Losing a family member is horrific and to the extent this was the reason why, I hope that is investigated and I hope those responsible are held to account,” Newsom said.
 

inguef

The Fallen
Oct 28, 2017
12,050
I thought they couldn't cut the power for people with disabilities or small children?
 

Theswweet

RPG Site
Verified
Oct 25, 2017
2,157
California
I still don't understand how turning the power off will help prevent wildfires. Unless that is a complete nonsense reason.
It's because the power lines in the state have not been properly maintained, so when especially strong winds hit 'em they'll fall over. Sparks from those lines, if they're live, can and will cause fires - especially in this time of the year. PG&E decided that they'd rather be liable for people dying due to loss of power than being liable for fires.
 

aceface

Member
Oct 25, 2017
924
It's because the power lines in the state have not been properly maintained, so when especially strong winds hit 'em they'll fall over. Sparks from those lines, if they're live, can and will cause fires - especially in this time of the year. PG&E decided that they'd rather be liable for people dying due to loss of power than being liable for fires.
If only there were a third option.
 

SEBattleship

Member
Oct 27, 2017
300
Chicago
Wasn’t the power outage announced ahead of time? Didn’t that announcement advise people to prepare backup generators in case of emergencies? I don’t see how this could have come as a surprise to this family.
 

devSin

Member
Oct 27, 2017
3,772
Wasn’t the power outage announced ahead of time? Didn’t that announcement advise people to prepare backup generators in case of emergencies? I don’t see how this could have come as a surprise to this family.
The announcement went out the day it was happening, and they never said that they would turn off power, only that they could. And the website they told people to check never even worked.

And then they did it in the middle of the night, hours before any dangerous wind that would have damaged their shitty, neglected power lines that they refused for decades to maintain.
 

TwinBahamut

Member
Jun 8, 2018
688
I still don't understand how turning the power off will help prevent wildfires. Unless that is a complete nonsense reason.
The idea was that faulty and poorly maintained power equipment creates sparks that may cause a fire.

At present, California is in the midst of the driest time of the year, waiting for the start of the rainy season. Even moderate winds dry out plantlife, both making it easier for things to burn and accelerating the spread of fires. This creates "red flag" conditions where massive wildfires occur. Even small sparks from trivial causes can destroy towns under these conditions.

PG&E's plan was to avoid liability for any wildfires that might start during this timeframe.
 

Curler

Member
Oct 26, 2017
4,981
The announcement went out the day it was happening, and they never said that they would turn off power, only that they could. And the website they told people to check never even worked.

And then they did it in the middle of the night, hours before any dangerous wind that would have damaged their shitty, neglected power lines that they refused for decades to maintain.
Also to note, that they did an AWFUL job with warning people. Unless you are a social media regular or always have the news on, you probably wouldn't have known. Not everyone got a text message (only those that are the bill-payers of PG&E bills, essentially). For something like this, it should've been a widespread emergency notification text for EVERYONE in the area. Even if you were in an unaffected area, you might have loved ones that are and may not know.

There was VERY little planning with this, and unlike a possible natural disaster knocking out the power, this was a man-made CHOICE. One that was planned on lasting UP to 7 days, so an entire week having to deal with: no power, possibly no water/sewage control, entire fridge/freezer having to be thrown out after a day or so (without being comp'd by PG&E), among other medical and other stuff happening. To be honest, I'm surprised only one person has died due to this (and who knows why he didn't have a backup or whatever, but I'm going to go with the idea that he had no idea). Not everyone is prepped in case of disasters either, which isn't really good (the whole "it'll never happen to ME" mentality many people have), but there's a difference when it comes to a human flicking off the power, or a natural disaster doing it.
 

NSA

Avenger
Oct 27, 2017
2,718
California
The idea was that faulty and poorly maintained power equipment creates sparks that may cause a fire.

At present, California is in the midst of the driest time of the year, waiting for the start of the rainy season. Even moderate winds dry out plantlife, both making it easier for things to burn and accelerating the spread of fires. This creates "red flag" conditions where massive wildfires occur. Even small sparks from trivial causes can destroy towns under these conditions.

PG&E's plan was to avoid liability for any wildfires that might start during this timeframe.
Southern California Edison turned power off some areas in the South due to this as well, however in one area they didn't it's alleged that sparks coming off a power pole started the Saddleridge fire which led to a death and something like 30 houses burned/damaged. SCE is generally better than PG&E but shit happens and 60+mph wind is no joke. The tiniest ignition can get way out of control fast.
 

Stinkles

343 Industries
Verified
Oct 25, 2017
14,784
The power lines can get knocked down causing sparks and fires. By turning them all off that can't happen.
It's also to reduce liability for fires caused by their failures to maintain infrastructure. Don't start nothing won't be nothing approach to insurance liability.
 

NinjaScooter

Member
Oct 25, 2017
22,048
That’s how my house burned down in LA.
Im not saying it can't happen, I'm saying it reeks of poor planning that this was what they could come up with as a precautionary measure (in addition to doing a piss poor job of communicating it to people). California being windy and dry and prone to wildfires isn't some new phenomenon.
 

Musubi

Member
Oct 25, 2017
5,484
That's a sad way to lose someone. Completely preventable and avoidable. I kind of doubt anyone will be held accountable.
 

devSin

Member
Oct 27, 2017
3,772
There was VERY little planning with this, and unlike a possible natural disaster knocking out the power, this was a man-made CHOICE. One that was planned on lasting UP to 7 days, so an entire week having to deal with: no power, possibly no water/sewage control, entire fridge/freezer having to be thrown out after a day or so (without being comp'd by PG&E), among other medical and other stuff happening. To be honest, I'm surprised only one person has died due to this (and who knows why he didn't have a backup or whatever, but I'm going to go with the idea that he had no idea). Not everyone is prepped in case of disasters either, which isn't really good (the whole "it'll never happen to ME" mentality many people have), but there's a difference when it comes to a human flicking off the power, or a natural disaster doing it.
And because of their garbage infrastructure, they turned off power to entire communities in the north of the state who had no fire risk (they didn't even add Humboldt until the day of the outage, and then it seems they blacked out the entire county—and couldn't use the local plant as backup for "reasons").

It's also to reduce liability for fires caused by their failures to maintain infrastructure. Don't start nothing won't be nothing approach to insurance liability.
It's only to reduce liability. This is 100% about PG&E covering their own ass. They don't give one solitary shit about starting a fire.
 

NSA

Avenger
Oct 27, 2017
2,718
California
It's also to reduce liability for fires caused by their failures to maintain infrastructure. Don't start nothing won't be nothing approach to insurance liability.
I think everyone should be able to agree that a fire not starting is in everyone's best interest. Livelyhood, financially, and probably even environmentally.

I'd prefer they fix their shit so this isn't required but in the interim I think it'd be better to do all you can to prevent the fire from starting in the first place.

I wonder how many potentially preventable deaths/etc have happened due to the manpower strain big California fires put on local fire/police. I have to imagine it's a non zero number.
 

Rizific

Member
Oct 27, 2017
2,593
What kind of life support equipment doesn't have backup power?
Oxygen concentrators usually dont. But oxygen tanks are provided for specifically this reason (along with transporting a patient). The article mentions them trying to bust out a portable battery operated oxygen concentrator, but why reach for that when tanks are supposed to be kept bedside and readily accessible for emergency situations. And with the advanced warnings of power outages, this just smells like caregiver negligence/incompetence. Story also mentions the patient being found wearing his oxygen mask. If there isn't any oxygen flowing to that mask, leaving it on essentially means you'll be rebreathing your exhaled co2 and accelerating that patients decline.
 

Drax

Oregon tag
Member
Oct 25, 2017
2,493
Too add some context to this. PG&E have a really poor history from perusing Wikipedia. 2010 seemed to be particularly disastrous and callous of them as they took money out of the maintenance funds to pay bonuses and shares.

I'm hoping a native could explain it more as they seem to be even shittier than at first glance.
 

fauxtrot

Member
Oct 25, 2017
223
"Nationalize" the power industry and use any profits to upgrade the power grid rather than allowing upper management to enrich themselves.
 

Curler

Member
Oct 26, 2017
4,981
How did the outage take them by surprise?
They as in the company, or the effected people? If you mean PG&E, I mean weather can be sudden and give very little time frame on how strong winds would be and stuff

2 questions

1. How is a private company allowed to just turn off power whenever they want?
2. Did no one think to check on the family member who relies on a oxygen tank to make sure he wouldn't be affected by said power outage?
1. Watch Enron: The Smartest Guy in the Room >_> (Didn't live here then, but yeesh!)

2. A lot of crappy families, plus as I mentioned, the notification PG&E put out went very poorly :/
 

devSin

Member
Oct 27, 2017
3,772
1. How is a private company allowed to just turn off power whenever they want?
Because the state ceded control of utilities to private companies.

The PUC is supposed to safeguard the public and make sure their interests are being served, but they haven't done a very good job of it in recent years. (Kind of like the FAA outsourcing the safety regulation of the airliners to the companies making them.)

2. Did no one think to check on the family member who relies on a oxygen tank to make sure he wouldn't be affected by said power outage?
It's not certain if anybody knew he would be affected. They never gave a firm warning that the power would definitely be turned off, and it happened in the middle of the night (if the man was living alone, he may not even have been aware if he didn't get a text, phone call, or email, or watched the local news).

The most "plugged-in" families would have been the ones with the most warning, but even then there was no certainty in the guidance that PG&E was pretending to offer (and their website was down the entire day before the shutoffs). The power could have been going off, or maybe it wouldn't, but if it did it could have been off for hours, or days, or a week. "We just don't know. Be prepared... for something!"
 

RoninStrife

Member
Oct 27, 2017
1,830
Well, I hope there is some good that comes out of this tragedy. How about Government regulations so harsh, it forces the company to not only pay to upgrade, maintain or modify their powerlines/poles to withstand the winds but to also pay massive amounts in damages to families in case their actions result in death or injury.
 

RoninStrife

Member
Oct 27, 2017
1,830
Well, I hope there is some good that comes out of this tragedy. How about Government regulations so harsh, it forces the company to not only pay to upgrade, maintain or modify their powerlines/poles to withstand the winds but to also pay massive amounts in damages to families in case their actions result in death or injury.
 

Zulith

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,383
West Coast, USA
I'm of two minds about this one. I absolutely don't think turning the power off to avoid fires is a viable option. Because they know a small number of people WILL die without the power, so they are saying that is more acceptable than the "risk" of a fire which potentially will kill 0 people. They need to fast track the upgrades in at-risk areas where these fires can start.

On the other hand, it's very irresponsible for this guy to be left without a backup power source if his life depends on the power. Because power outages can happen for any number of reasons, not necessarily by the choice of PG&E.
 

Maximus

Member
Oct 27, 2017
2,798
Regular power outages happen. What would he have done then?
I don’t know why people are shitting on you. Yes, it’s fucking terrible someone died over the power being intentionally cut, but clearly there were some unfortunate flaws with that persons life support system or negligence from their caregivers too.

It’s a fair point given there must be more than one person that may require life saving support that needs power that need to have a backup plan when this shit happens or if the power goes out.

It’s a shame it has to come to this to prevent wild fires, but those fires are so devastating too. It’s still tragic someone has to lose their life like this.
 

devSin

Member
Oct 27, 2017
3,772
I'm of two minds about this one. I absolutely don't think turning the power off to avoid fires is a viable option. Because they know a small number of people WILL die without the power, so they are saying that is more acceptable than the "risk" of a fire which potentially will kill 0 people. They need to fast track the upgrades in at-risk areas where these fires can start.
It's estimated that the cost of the shutoff could be as high as 2.5 billion dollars (not to mention potential loss of life in cases like the one here).

Guess how much of that PG&E is liable for. In their minds, turning off the power is the most viable option.
 

N.Domixis

The Fallen
Oct 28, 2017
6,610
Holy shit family should sue, why doesn’t back up start automatically? That shit shouldn’t be manual.