6 Safety Tips for Using a Portable Generator

Having a portable generator on hand can be a blessing in the aftermath of a hurricane, ice storm, or other cause of a major power outage. Like most military members, you're probably prepared for different kinds of emergencies. But if your preparations include a gasoline-powered generator, it's essential that you know how to safely use it. The exhaust contains deadly carbon monoxide that can kill within minutes and turn the best-laid disaster plans into a family tragedy.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the United States Fire Administration (USFA) have joined forces to warn consumers about the risks of gasoline-powered generators. Their safety reminders include these instructions:

  • Operate your generator outdoors only and far away from homes. Never run a generator inside a house, basement, garage, shed or near windows or vents to your house or a neighbor's house.
  • Use heavy-duty extension cords specifically designed for outdoor use. Extension cords should be free of damage and long enough to keep the generator far away from house windows, doors, vents and other structures.
  • If you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away. Do not delay. Carbon monoxide from a generator can kill in minutes.
  • Install battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms or plug-in alarms with battery back-up. Make sure they are on every level of the home and near outside sleeping areas, according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • In wet conditions, operate the generator under an open, canopy-like structure on a dry surface where water cannot reach it or puddle or drain under it. Generators pose a risk of shock and electrocution if operated in wet conditions.
  • Never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. This practice, known as "backfeeding," is extremely dangerous and presents an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same utility transformer.

Take the time to read both the label and the owner's manual, and follow the manufacturer's instructions for using your generator. For more information on preparing for and staying safe during emergencies, go to Ready.gov.


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