Power surge at Easton Airport prompts emergency response

Talbot County volunteer fire fighters respond to a report of smoke on Wednesday, March 18, inside the air traffic control tower at Easton Airport.

EASTON — It was just a brief interruption, but its location prompted multiple Talbot County volunteer fire trucks and emergency services vehicles to respond to reports of smoke in the air traffic control tower just before 3 p.m., Wednesday, March 18,  at the Easton Airport.

Emergency services and volunteer fire fighters from the Easton, Cordova and St. Michaels fire departments were dispatched to the airport after employees in the tower smelled smoke, Easton Volunteer Fire Department Chief Sonny Jones said.

Three employees in the tower smelled smoke and saw a light haze, airport manager Micah Risher said. At the same time, the primary radios shut down, and the air traffic controllers were forced to switch to their backup radios.

Risher said the outage was caused by a power surge that took place at the same time. The employees had to remain at their posts because there was aircraft landing.

"They stayed at their position because they calculated that the risk was minimal on the operations floor,” Risher said. The tower has an isolated stairwell for evacuation that allows the operators to stay on the operations floor during an emergency as long as possible.

The fire department arrived on scene, but there was no active fire, Jones said.

“Our crews investigated and determined that the smoke was caused by some overheated radio equipment caused by the power surge,” Jones said. “The equipment was rendered safe prior to arrival by employees of the tower and we just verified that there was no smoldering or burning equipment anywhere. Once it was found to be safe, then we cleared the tower.”

Easton Utilities notified the airport and fire department that there was a power surge, Jones said. Jones reported that Easton Utilities was aware of the power surge prior to the incident.

“Power surges happen all the time," he said. "I mean most of the time they go without notice. Sometimes this stuff happens.”

Kelly Simonsen, Easton Utilities marketing and communications manager, said the surge did not originate in Easton. In fact, the fault on their transmission line was caused by a “system disturbance” that originated in an area controlled by Delmarva Power, an Exelon Company. However, she could not confirm that the two issues were related.

Timothy Stokes, a company spokesperson for Delmarva Power, said Easton Airport may have experienced a momentary service interruption due to an incident in Queen Anne, when a tractor hit a transmission pole at about 2 p.m.

A brush fire truck and rescue vehicle from the Queen Anne-Hillsboro Volunteer Fire Company responded to a small brush fire about 2 p.m. 

The call came from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources offices at 3001 Starr Road. There were no injuries reported, and the tractor was not damaged, but the wooden power pole was completely toppled over.

The fire burned an area an estimated at 30 by 50 feet, but it was quickly contained. 

This incident caused a power outage affecting about 2,440 customers. Power was restored at 2:53 p.m. The incident is under investigation, Stokes said.

Bay Times reporter Kristian Jaime contributed to this story.

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