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Power company offers reward for Forward copper thief

| Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, 3:56 a.m.

West Penn Power officials are offering a reward for information leading to an arrest for the theft of copper wire from a power substation, causing loss of service for 750 Forward Township area customers, including an Elizabeth Forward elementary school, for four hours on Monday, township police said.

“We haven't set the amount yet,” Todd Meyers of West Penn Power said. “It depends on the damage to the substation.”

Police said someone got into the Pangburn Hill substation on Ridge Road sometime after 6 a.m.

“That's a small-distribution power station,” Meyers said.

“They cut the grounding wire from poles,” township police Chief Mark Holtzman said. “Then they breached the substation.”

A utility pole within the substation caught fire, bringing out Forward Township, Gallatin-Sunnyside and Bunola volunteer firefighters.

Meyers said arcing of electricity triggered the blaze. Township authorities said the fire was contained to the transformer property.

West Penn Power spokeswoman Terri Knupp said power was out from 7:20-11:25 a.m.

“That was us cutting the power so we could safely extinguish the pole fire,” Meyers said. “They were able to do things to get the power back on as soon as possible.”

Roughly 100 feet of copper neutral wire was taken, valued at about $250.

“It is wire that helps ground our electrical equipment,” Meyers said. “There were some different sized copper neutral wire.”

He said the labor could raise the total cost to $1,200 or more, depending on how much equipment was permanently damaged.

“There was damage to the transformer and three voltage regulators,” Holtzman said.

Affected customers included William Penn Elementary School.

“Everything was covered,” Superintendent Bart Rocco said. “We did not cancel classes. Lunches were delayed a little.”

The school district is trying to upgrade electrical service at William Penn.

“There is a generator there that is under repair,” Rocco said. “We're still in the process of getting bids.”

No injuries were reported. Live wires were cut by whomever stole the wire, but Holtzman said there was no evidence that anyone had been electrocuted.

Meyers said it could have been different.

“We can't stress how dangerous and stupid it is for someone to go into a substation,” he said. “People get injured and killed all the time. It is not worth the risk and not worth going to jail over.”

Meyers said repairs may force a scheduled or planned outage at a later date.

Anyone with information is asked to call township police at 412-384-2134.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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