Be Prepared – Important Information About Generators

By: Denise Koslowsky

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Generators are a key part in storm preparation for many people.  Whether you already own one or are thinking of purchasing one, we think it is important to share a few of our thoughts about them.

First, it is important that you check your generator prior to a storm threat to be sure it is working properly and that you have plenty of fuel on hand to operate it.

Second, it is important to be sure that you understand how to properly operate a generator so that you and your family stay safe.  Unfortunately we hear of many deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning.  Electrocution is also a safety concern.  Although it is tempting to use your generator while the storm is raging, it is much safer to wait the storm out and use them after the storm while you wait for your power to be restored.

To help you learn more, we would like to share with you some information on Safely Using a Generator at Home and Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from the Red Cross.

Using a Generator at Home

The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire. We encourage you to follow the directions supplied with the generator.

  • To avoid electrocution, keep the generator dry and do not use in the rain or wet conditions. Operate it on a dry surface under an open canopy-like structure, such as under a tarp held up on poles. Do not touch the generator with wet hands.
  • Be sure to turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.
  • Store fuel for the generator in an approved safety can. Use the type of fuel recommended in the instructions or on the label on the generator.
  • Local laws may restrict the amount of fuel you may store, or the storage location. Ask your local fire department.
  • Store the fuel outside of living areas in a locked shed or other protected
    To guard against accidental fire, do not store it near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage.
  • Plug appliances directly into the generator, or use a heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads.
  • Check that the entire cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.
  • Never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. Known as backfeeding this practice puts utility workers, your neighbors and your household at risk of electrocution.
  • Remember, even a properly connected portable generator can become overloaded, resulting in overheating or generator failure. Be sure to read the instructions.
  • If necessary, stagger the operating times for various equipment to prevent overloads.

Prevent Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area.
  • Keep these devices outdoors, away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
  • Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO buildup in the home. Although CO can’t be seen or smelled, it can rapidly lead to full incapacitation and death. Even if you cannot smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to CO. If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY – DO NOT DELAY.
  • Install CO alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide.
  • Test the batteries frequently and replace when needed.
  • If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door.
  • Call for help from the fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrive to assist you.
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