Chat with the Chief – Generator Safety |

Chat with the Chief – Generator Safety

Virginia Gompertz

“Chat with Chief” Don Wagner was conducted October 22nd at the Penn Valley Fire Department (PVFD) on Spenceville Road. This was an excellent time to ask Chief Wagner any questions we have about any fire-related issues in the community. Chief Wagner is incredibly knowledgeable: With all due respect, he’s a walking Encyclopedia. For all of you younger folks: He’s a walking Wikepedia App.

The main concern, as of this writing, is Power Outages and Generator Safety:

Make sure your Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors are working properly. They plug into a wall, AND they have a 9-Volt back up battery. If the power is out long enough, your back up battery may get weak and the CO detector begins to beep. Please note it’s not malfunctioning. It just needs a new battery.

During the last power outage, PVFD, was called out for CO poisoning. Because of the annoying beep (the resident didn’t know about the weak back up battery), the resident disabled the detector. There was over 400 ppm of carbon monoxide in the home because a generator was running under a carport and exhaust was blowing under the house and seeped into the air vents. Out of the two residents, one person succumbed to the poisoning. A home should have 1 ppm CO.

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Keep Generators away from your home in case they malfunction and burn. Jim Mathias with Cal-Fire said that they responded to a house fire because the generator was enclosed (NEVER muffle the noise by enclosing a generator). This generator also had leaves under/around it and was 12”-18” from the house. Being enclosed, the generator over-heated, caught on fire and caught the house on fire too.

Keep Generators maintained: The gas tubing can get brittle and crack. Tubing can vibrate loose, if not clamped correctly. Your generator will vibrate, so make sure it’s secure and can’t “walk around.”

Never refill a portable generator with gas when the motor is HOT: can cause an explosion. Wait for the motor/system to cool off before refueling.

For whole house generators: Hire a professional licensed electrician knowledgeable with whole house generator installation: The Generator itself, sub-panel electrical box and transfer switch.

A few Nevada County house fires are from faulty electrical installation, wrong transfer switch wiring and/or back feed into the home after power is restored. Incorrect wiring and back-feed can also send electricity to the street’s power lines and shock nearby power line workers.

Let’s all keep it safe – and get through these power outages safely together.

More Safety with Generators:

How To Stay Safe Using A Portable Generator

(Reprint from Consumer Report September 2019. On Nevada County Coalition of Fire Wise Communities Website)

Annual ER Visits: 4,500. Deaths: 68. A portable generator produces power if your electricity goes out, but it also produces deadly Caron monoxide (CO) – the top cause of generator-related deaths. Take the case of three Wisconsin friends, ages 23 to 30, who died in a home from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2017 after using a generator indoors to power their electricity.

Simple Precautions to prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning:

Never, ever use a generator anywhere inside your home – including the basement or garage. Gas generators release levels of CO that are exponentially higher than an idling car, and they should never be operated in an enclosed space.

Keep your generator at least 20 feet from the house and – this is critical – aim the engine exhaust away from windows and doors. Recent testing at the Consumer Reports facility found that the direction the exhaust is pointed is one of the biggest factors contributing to CO buildup, even more so than distance or wind speed or direction.

As an extra layer of safety, when it’s running, keep a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector where you are.

To Avoid electric shocks and burns:

Keep your generator dry to reduce the chance of getting shocked when you plug in an electric cord. Tents designed for generators keep them protected from moisture and well-ventilated so that dangerous levels of CO don’t collect.

Consider getting an electrician to install a transfer switch that connects the portable generator to your circuit panel, which lets you power hardwired appliances and mechanical equipment, such as your water heater, without the risk of using extension cords. Skipping it could endanger utility workers, cause appliances to fry, or damage the generator itself. For a generator rated 5,000 watts or higher, you can expect to pay $500 to $900 to have a transfer switch installed.

In an emergency, if you must use the outlets on the generator to power your appliances, plug them into a high-gauge extension cord plugged directly to the generator. “Use the heaviest gauge extension cord: We recommend 12-Guage,” says Dave Trezza, who oversees Consumer Reports generator tests.

Avoid Burns: Turn off gas-powered generators before refueling and let it cool. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts can ignite or cause burns.

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