SALEM - A lightning strike on a pole at South Ellsworth Avenue and Railroad Street knocked out power to the city police and fire stations and numerous homes and businesses Wednesday night, disabling 911 for a short time and leaving everybody in the dark.
"We heard the bang here," Capt. Jeff Olinger said at the fire station, then the power cut out and the analog line started ringing.
A First Energy spokesman said he had no estimate for when power would be restored to the Salem area when contacted around 8:30 p.m., estimating several thousand customers out at that time. Power at the Salem News came back on around 10:50 p.m. after being out since before 6:30 p.m.
Both police and fire departments had one phone line apiece working due to old analog phone systems still in place which don't rely on electric power. Salem Police Lt. Don Beeson said they had no 911 service after the city hall emergency generator failed to kick on, but it was restored around 8:30 p.m.
Through local television stations, Beeson said they advised city residents to limit their calls to the police station and fire department for emergencies only. They had limited power, with the fire department generator kicking on quickly. Once the city hall generator got going, the police also had limited power.
Traffic lights were not working, forcing motorists to use a 4-way stop system. Beeson said they were putting out flares at the intersections and prioritizing their calls.
According to fire Capt. Shawn Mesler, the lightning strike caused lines to go down.
The fire department responded to two calls for people stuck in elevators. Olinger said they had to use the elevator key to rescue a woman from an elevator at the Smith Center apartments on Fourth Street which was stuck between the second and third floors at 6:27 p.m.
They also received a call to respond to the Salem Community Center, but by the time they arrived, the power generator at SCC had activated and the person stuck got out and left. No one was in the elevator when firefighters arrived.
Power to the Perry Township fire department and police department was also shut down, with radios being used to communicate with the Sheriff's Office dispatch.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org