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Portable generator safety and fire prevention

There is no time of year better than another to own a portable generator. Severe weather can strike at anywhere in any season leaving you without power for hours, days, and even weeks. The use of generators has increased and sales have skyrocketed, in areas regularly hit by natural disasters, and others. Portable generators of any kind are not designed to be dangerous to use as long as you follow the manufacturer's guidelines, but there are some risks. About 81 deaths per year are attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from generators and using them incorrectly. Additionally, about 3,500 deaths and 18,000 injuries occur each year in fires, reducing your risk is important in stopping the fire before it starts.

Portable generators can be used to supply emergency power
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To increase your safety and reduce the risk of injury when using a portable generator follow these guidelines from the U.S. Fire Administration:

  • Always use generators outdoors away from doors, windows, and vents. Even with ventilation, never use generators in enclosed areas.
  • Always follow the manufacturer's guidelines
  • Keep the generators in a dry place
  • Dry your hands before touching the generator
  • Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a heavy-duty outdoor-rated extension cord. Make sure the entire extension cord is free of cuts or tears and the plug has all three prongs; especially a grounding pin
  • Never plug the generator into a wall outlet. This can cause utility workers and others using the same transformer to receive a shock and die because of the electricity
  • If you must connect a portable generator to house wiring, have an electrician add the appropriate equipment. Your utility company may be able to put in an appropriate transfer switch.
  • Before refueling the generator, turn it off, and let it cool. Fuel spilled on hot engine parts could burst into flames
  • Store fuel outside of living areas in clearly labeled, non-glass containers, away from fuel-burning appliances

A generator can provide emergency power to necessities before any utilities are restored. Correctly using a generator can be a life-saving. Always follow manufacturer guidelines. In any emergency always consider the risk and benefits of remaining in your home, moving to an emergency shelter, or staying with friends and relatives in an unaffected area.

For more information on emergency planning, fire prevention, and personal safety you can visit the following websites:

You can also check with local police, fire, or emergency management agencies for information on preparing for emergencies and using any tools or supplies safely and effectively in a disaster.

Alex Zielinski is a volunteer firefighter in Evansville, Indiana and a full-time firefighter in Providence, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter @FireSafetyAZ If you enjoyed this article leave a comment or click subscribe above to receive notification of future stories. Read a previous Fire Safety article: Child seat, space heater, and vehicle recalls

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