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Officials Urge Care When Operating a Home Generator

Release date: 
July 14, 2005
Release Number: 
1595-006

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Electric generators can be lifesavers when your household electricity is disrupted, but they can also take a life when they are used inappropriately or by persons who are unaware of their potential danger.

Within three days of Hurricane Dennis’ landfall, Sacred Heart Hospital’s Emergency/Trauma Center in Pensacola has already treated four cases of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by generator fumes.

In addition, Pensacola police found an 84-year-old Pensacola man dead Tuesday near a gasoline-powered generator in his carbon-monoxide-filled home. It was the second suspected carbon-monoxide poisoning death since Hurricane Dennis struck Sunday. Both occurred in homes where gas-powered generators were being used indoors.

Officials of the Florida State Emergency Response Team (SERT) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have words of caution for citizens who are using gasoline-powered generators to keep their appliances running in the wake of Hurricane Dennis.

The primary hazards when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire. Most of the deaths and injuries associated with portable generators are from CO poisoning from generators used indoors or in partially enclosed spaces.

One of the most important cautions is to never run a generator indoors or in any area where ventilation is limited and people or animals are present. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO build-up in the home. The carbon monoxide fumes emitted by gasoline engines can be fatal, often without the victims, especially those who are sleeping, ever realizing the danger.

You cannot smell or see CO so even if you do not smell exhaust fumes, you may be exposed. If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air immediately. The CO from generators can rapidly lead to full incapacitation and death. If you experience serious symptoms, get medical attention right away. Inform medical staff that CO poisoning is suspected. If the symptoms occurred while indoors, call the fire department to determine if it is safe to re-enter the building.

An additional caution is to install carbon monoxide alarms inside your home to warn when carbon monoxide levels from any source pose a serious health risk.

Hooking your generator directly into your home power supply could energize the outside power lines and potentially injure or electrocute an unwary utility lineman. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices. Always connect the generator to the appliances with extension cords.

If you must connect the generator through the house wiring to power appliances, use a qualified electrician to install the appropriate equipment in accordance with local electrical codes. Or, ask your utility company to install an appropriate power transfer switch.

Follow these tips to prevent fires:

  • Never store fuel for your generator in your house. Gasoline, propane, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly labeled, non-glass safety containers. Do not store them near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage. If the fuel is spilled or the container is not sealed properly, invisible vapors from the fuel can travel along the ground and be ignited by the appliance’s pilot light or by arcs from electric switches in the appliance.
  • Before refueling the generator, turn it off and let it cool down. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.

Taking a few extra minutes to implement these suggestions will ensure the safety of your family and give you one less cause for concern during the process of recovery from the storm....

Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 12:45