Preparedness expert offers power outage safety tips after substation fire

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published July 27, 2016

 A DTE Energy substation recently caught on fire, which caused about 5,000 residents to lose power for several hours in Farmington Hills.

A DTE Energy substation recently caught on fire, which caused about 5,000 residents to lose power for several hours in Farmington Hills.


FARMINGTON HILLS — A DTE Energy substation caught on fire around noon July 18 at Drake Road and 12 Mile Road, causing about 5,000 residents to lose power for several hours.

Emergency Preparedness Commission Chair Tim Tutak said that power outages can happen at any time, and when they happen during high temperatures, staying hydrated and cool is key. 

From setting up camp in your basement to finding a cooling station in your city, if the power is out for an extended period of time, Tutak said options are out there. Other choices could include visiting friends and family with power, or going to a movie theater and watching a show to cool down.

Fire Chief Jon Unruh said that just before noon that day, the Farmington Hills Fire Department received a call about smoke coming from the substation.

“We arrived on scene and found heavy smoke, along with some flames (coming from an) enclosure within the structure,” Unruh said, adding that he notified DTE officials.

Unruh said that there was a “tremendous” amount of electricity involved in the fire.

“You don’t put water on them,” he said, adding that the Fire Department extinguished the fire after the substation was de-energized to contain the blaze.

“The power was removed from the substation; as long as the power is affecting it, it would continue to burn,” Unruh said. “We coordinated our efforts with DTE.”

DTE Energy Lead Communications Specialist Lisa M. Bolla said in an email statement that about 5,000 customers living in the area of 13 Mile and Drake experienced the power outage July 18 beginning at about 3 p.m.  

“There (were) no injuries or damage to neighboring structures,” she said in the email. “DTE Energy crews began restoring customers as soon as the fire was extinguished. About 2,500 customers were restored by around 8:30 p.m. The balance of the customers were restored (at) about 11 p.m. DTE Energy understands that outages are inconvenient for customers, and we appreciate their patience as we worked to restore the power.”

Bolla said that the cause of the fire is still under investigation. 

“In situations like this, DTE Energy’s first priority is restoring customers,” she said in the email. “So, first we focus on getting the power back on and then we begin analysis.” 

Unruh said that the residents were notified through a citywide press release, which encouraged residents to check on the elderly during the power outage to see if they needed basic essentials.

Unruh also said that traffic was impacted near the substation, along 12 Mile to 13 1/2 Mile, and Halsted and Farmington roads.

Tutak added that in the case of a power outage in a heat wave, people should avoid the use of alcohol because it could cause further dehydration. 

Also, having at least a 72-hour food supply is ideal.

“I would also try to avoid foods that are high in sodium; that will also increase the thirst level a little bit,” he said.

During the power outage, the city posted a Facebook message encouraging residents to check on family members living in the affected area who are elderly or who have special needs.

Tutak agreed and said that many elderly residents are dependent on oxygen generators or other devices that require electricity.

“We were fortunate with that the power outage ... was only for a few hours,” he said. “It could be a life-threatening situation.” 

Tutak added that residents should consider purchasing a portable generator and should have at least two carbon monoxide detectors in the house.

“The generators should be placed at least 10 feet away from the house and downwind of the house,” Tutak said. “Another safety measure is if you are driving by and see (a) generator too close to a house, call 911 and ask for them to do a welfare check.”

Generators should not be placed near an open door or window to the house, or near a garage door.

For more information on the location of the power outages, go to or contact the Farmington Hills Fire Department at (248) 871-2600 for assistance.

For more information on the EPC, go to and

The EPC meets at 5:15 p.m. the first Monday of every month at Farmington Hills City Hall, 31555 W. 11 Mile Road.