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These 4 safety tips for using a portable generator could save your life

Date: 2016/02/12

More than 1,000 Islanders are without power Tuesday — with Maritime Electric saying it could be Thursday before power is fully restored.

  • P.E.I. power outages could continue into Thursday

But because portable generators burn gas, their exhaust fumes contain potentially deadly carbon monoxide. In fact, on Monday night, residents of Murray Harbour, P.E.I. were sent to hospital after exhaust from their backup generator made it back into their house.

  • Backup generator trouble sends house occupants to hospital

  • Powerless on P.E.I.: How Islanders are coping without electricity

Provincial Fire Marshal David Rossiter said all Islanders should follow these cardinal rules of safe operation:

1. RUN IT OUTSIDE

Make sure the exhaust is not pointed toward your house, where an open window or intake air vent could draw dangerous exhaust fumes into your home, said Rossiter.

It is not safe to run a portable generator inside an attached garage. Fumes can make their way into your home through cracks in doorways or other openings.

Dave Rossiter

Provincial Fire Marshal David Rossiter said it's important to use portable generators safely during power outages. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"Sometimes, people put the generator inside a mini-baby barn in the back yard to protect the generator from the weather," said Rossiter. "Make sure it's well ventillated."

2. LET A PROFESSIONAL DO THE WIRING

Professional wiring by a qualified electrician will ensure your generator delivers electricity where its needed in your home, without overwhelming its limited capacity.

"In emergencies there's a temptation to jerry-rig something yourself," said Rossiter. "Don't do it."

It is safe to run an extension cord to a single appliance — a freezer or a fridge, for example, but for powering multiple outlets, professional wiring provides the best way to reduce fire risk.

3.  GAS UP THE GENERATOR WHEN ITS ENGINE IS COLD

"Make sure the generator has been shut down for a period of time, that's it cool and safe to fuel," said Rossiter. 

"If you re-fuel it right away after shutting it down, then you run the risk of starting a fire if you spill gas on a hot engine."

4.  PUT CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS IN YOUR HOME

You can't smell or see poisonous carbon monoxide.

Headache and drowsiness are symptoms, but victims often lose consciousness before they realise what's happening. Carbon monoxide detectors will sound an alarm before CO levels reach dangerous levels inside a house.

"Every home should have one. It's as easy as buying a smoke alarm at a hardware store. And they're comparable in price," said Rossiter.


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