Safety Tips during and after the Winter Storm

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What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, also known as CO, is called the “Invisible Killer” because it’s a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. More than 150 people in the Unites States die every year from accidental nonfire-related CO poisoning associated with consumer products, including generators. Other products include faulty, improperly-used or incorrectly-vented fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters and fireplaces.

Know the symptoms of CO poisoning

Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Ultimately death

Public service announcement: winter fire safety

Stats on Carbon Monoxide:

  • 150+ people die each yr from consumer product-related carbon monoxide. Do you have a working CO alarm? http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/co/
  • If you are running a generator, you need to have a working CO alarm in your home. http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/co/
  • Keep gas generators away from homes & garages. Carbon monoxide can kill within minutes. http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/co/

Video: how close is too close for portable generators?

Generator Safety

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines when using generators.
  • Use a generator or other fuel-powered machines outside the home. CO fumes are odorless and can quickly overwhelm you indoors.
  • Use the appropriate sized and type power cords to carry the electric load. Overloaded cords can overheat and cause fires.
  • Never connect generators to another power source such as power lines. The reverse flow of electricity or ‘backfeed’ can electrocute an unsuspecting utility worker.

Heating Safety

  • Alternative heaters need their space. Keep anything that can catch fire at least three feet away.
  • Make sure your alternative heaters have ‘tip switches.’ These ‘tip switches’ are designed to automatically turn off the heater in the event they tip over.
  • Kerosene heaters may not be legal in your area and should only be used where approved by authorities.
  • Only use the type of fuel recommended by the manufacturer and follow suggested guidelines.
  • Never refill a space heater while it is operating or still hot. Refuel heaters only outdoors.
  • Make sure wood stoves are properly installed, and at least three feet away from anything that can catch fire. Ensure they have the proper floor support and adequate ventilation.
  • Use a glass or metal screen in front of your fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting nearby carpets, furniture or other items that can catch fire.
  • Do not use the kitchen oven range to heat your home. In addition to being a fire hazard, it can be a source of toxic fumes.

and Remember…

  • Always use a flashlight – not a candle – for emergency lighting.
  • Some smoke alarms may be dependent on your home’s electrical service and could be inoperative during a power outage. Check to see if your smoke alarm uses a back-up battery and install a new battery at least once a year.
  • If there is a fire hydrant near your home, keep it clear of snow, ice and debris for easy access by the fire department.

About Todd Pruitt

Owner- SConFire.com and currently a career Fire Captain. Past Operations Chief for Greater Valley EMS & Rescue in Sayre, PA and Volunteer Truck Captain in the City of Salisbury, MD. Over 25 Years of Experience in Emergency Services.