FirstEnergy is reminding customers to fill the air with love, not helium-filled balloons this Valentine’s Day. While foil balloons have increased in popularity as party and drive-by celebration decorations, they continue to cause many power outages because their metallic coating conducts electricity and poses a risk to the electric system.
“Many people are surprised to learn that stray balloons can drift into high-voltage equipment and cause power outages and other safety issues that impact our power system,” said Lisa Rouse, director of outage management at FirstEnergy. “Although these balloons are fun and festive, it is important for people to handle them properly so they do not get released into the sky and impact electric service.”
Last year, foil balloons were to blame for 132 power outages across FirstEnergy’s six-state service area—a 25% increase in balloon-related outages when compared to 2019. Over the past three years, stray balloons have caused about 355 power outages in areas served by FirstEnergy’s electric companies.
Due to the popularity of Valentine’s Day balloons, February typically marks the onset of a dramatic increase in outages caused by adrift metallic balloons that peaks in June, when warm weather takes celebrations and picnics outdoors. The spike in balloon-related power outages last year is likely attributed to drive-by celebrations during the pandemic. In fact, many outages over the summer coincided with school graduation parades involving dozens of cars decorated with foil balloons and signs.
To help ensure holidays and celebrations are enjoyed responsibly, customers are encouraged to keep the following balloon safety tips in mind:
- Use caution and avoid celebrating with metallic balloons near overhead electric lines.
- Securely tie helium-filled metallic balloons to a weight that is heavy enough to prevent them from floating away. Do not remove the weight until the balloons are deflated.
- Puncture and deflate metallic balloons once they are no longer in use because they can stay inflated for several weeks. Never release them into the sky.
- Never attempt to retrieve any type of balloon, kite or toy that becomes caught in a power line. Leave it alone and immediately call FirstEnergy at 888-544-4877 to report the problem.
- Stay far away from a downed or low-hanging power line. Always assume downed lines are energized and dangerous. Report them ASAP by calling 911.
“By educating the public about the safety concerns that arise when using foil balloons outdoors, we can help keep our local communities safe while reducing the risk of any electric service disruptions,” Rouse said.