Power outage in Westminster inconveniences jail, businesses; Cause of interruption is not known, BGE says


Utility crews have not determined the cause of a power failure in Westminster yesterday that inconvenienced businesses and caused tense moments at the county detention center, where a backup generator malfunctioned.

Speculation that a small animal had tripped a fuse at a substation and knocked out six large feeder lines was unfounded, said Brenda Pettigrew, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman.

"Our crews found no evidence of animal involvement and don't know the cause," Pettigrew said

She noted that 3,800 customers were affected when power went out at 1: 07 p.m.

All service was restored by 2: 15 p.m., Pettigrew said.

Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning, who oversees the county jail, said correctional officers were not endangered when the backup generator failed, creating an emergency lockdown situation.

"Main doors automatically lock whenever the power goes out," Tregoning said.

Lunch had ended, so most of the prisoners in each unit were in the day rooms, he said.

After a count to determine that all prisoners and guards were accounted for, officers began ushering inmates to their cells to minimize inmate contact and improve internal security, he said.

All were present and no one was injured, he said.

In some instances, cell doors were secured with handcuffs or leg irons because the cell doors could not be manually locked with keys, Tregoning said.

The generator, which is supposed to supply 70 percent of needed power if electric service is disrupted, had a mechanical failure, Tregoning said.

"I don't know why that happened, but we are investigating the entire situation," he said.

County workers repaired the generator within about 15 minutes, he said.

Along Westminster's Main Street, professionals, shop owners and customers appeared to take the power failure in stride.

Dr. Debora A. F. Love, a Main Street dentist, had just completed making an impression for a patient's bridge when the lights and all electrical accessories went off.

"I couldn't operate the chair and I couldn't see, but was able to make a temporary filling by sunlight," she said.

Joe Markowitz, owner of Joe's Deli, maintained his sense of humor as the outage threatened part of his lunch business.

"After the lights went out, it just got real quiet," said Markowitz, who remained open and served cold sandwiches and soda. "I told everybody to just relax. Then the phone rang and I said, 'BGE, can I help you?' and everybody laughed. Then it was fine."

Down the street, H&R; Block had about 10 customers in the office when power was interrupted.

"We just sat here, we goofed off and just visited," said receptionist Winnie Nolte, adding that some employees caught up on their filing. "Some people with appointments didn't know how long it would last so they just left. Now we don't know if they're coming back or not."

The power outage had a silver lining for Locust Books, a bookstore in the Winchester Exchange building.

"It was good practice for Y2K, I guess," said saleswoman Becky Fisher, alluding to computer malfunctions expected when computer software may fail to recognize year 2000.

Customers browsed in the front of the store, where daylight illuminated titles. Transactions were completed by flashlight at the register.

"The customers all had a really good spirit about it," she said. "There was a lot of joking going on."

State and local police reported no major traffic problems during the blackout.

"Some officers directed traffic at a few intersections, but mostly the outage was sporadic," a police spokesman said.

Pub Date: 2/05/99

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