Firefighter hits power lines, suffers burns while paragliding in St. Pete

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A firefighter is hospitalized with electrical burns after being shocked Tuesday morning while paragliding over St. Petersburg.

The accident happened around 9 a.m. At Bears Creek Park near 1st Avenue North and 60th Street North. It knocked out electricity for neighbors for a short time.

The paraglider was conscious and alert when paramedics took him to Bayfront Health.

In spite of his injuries, his instinct as a firefighter kicked in. He told bystanders, “stay back” and “don’t come close” as he lay on the ground, still tangled up in these power lines.

Neighbors captured frightening video moments after he crashed into the power lines.

 “I heard a loud ‘bang! Bang!’ Three bangs and I was like, “OK, that sounded like a transformer going off,’” witness Kelly Soutar described.

He hit the ground, his flying gear still tangled up the lines. Soutar says she came running over to check on him.

“He said that he couldn’t feel his legs. His shirt was burned open. His chest was pink. He kept trying to shoo people away. He didn’t want to be touched,” Soutar said.

What she didn’t know was the victim - a man in his 40s - is usually the one responding to emergencies.

According to St. Pete Fire and Rescue, he works as a firefighter outside of St. Pete and Pinellas County. His friend told FOX 13 he is an experienced paraglider.

“They interviewed him at the hospital and spoke to him at the hospital. He said he was having engine troubles,” said St. Pete Fire and Rescue Deputy Fire Marshal Steven Lawrence.

Unlike parachuting, paragliders use a motorized fan to generate lift underneath a parachute. It appears the victim’s motor started to die so he tried to make an emergency landing at the same spot from where he took off - Bears Creek Park - but he hit the power lines before that could happen.

“Each line… is carrying 72,000 volts, and if you come in contact with multiple ones, now you’re almost doubling the voltage that has the potential to go through your body,” Lawrence said.

The shock was enough to knock out power to more than 30 homes nearby, according to Duke Energy.

Neighbors now want to know if such a sport is safe in residential areas.

“Just like flying a kite around power lines, probably shouldn’t be doing it,” a neighbor pointed out.

Fire officials have not released the victim’s name but say he was taken from Bayfront Health to Tampa General to be checked for any internal injuries.