State Fire Marshal Urges Safety While Using Generators for Those Still Without Power; Carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocution and fire are main dangers

Contact: Melanie Brown 517-373-9280
Agency: Licensing and Regulatory Affairs

December 27, 2013 - With thousands of Michiganders still without power as a result of the recent ice storm to hit the state, State Fire Marshal Richard Miller today urges consumers to take extra safety precautions while using generators when the power is out, especially to reduce risk of injury or death from carbon monoxide poisoning, a silent killer that builds up quickly without any warning signs or odors."

Portable generators are useful when temporary or remote electric power is needed, but the primary dangers when using generators are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire," said Miller. "Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas that is invisible and odorless. I urge consumers to buy at least one battery operated carbon monoxide detector and install it near the furnace and utility room. It works like a smoke alarm, sounding an alert if carbon monoxide levels become dangerous."

From 1999 to 2010, nearly 600 generator-related carbon monoxide (CO) deaths have been reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In recent years, an annual average of 81 deaths have been caused by CO poisoning from generator use. The majority of the deaths occurred as a result of using a generator inside a home’s living space, in the basement or in the garage.

"During these emergency situations, homeowners can only think of one thing, just getting their power back on. We're here to say take a few minutes to think about safety to protect your family's health first and foremost, and then your home." 

Miller said fire fighters know firsthand that carbon monoxide can build up quickly, without any warning signs or smells, so much so that it's considered a silent killer. A common mistake is that homeowners believe that opening windows or running fans will prevent carbon monoxide buildup which is inaccurate. While you cannot smell carbon monoxide, it can cause symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headache, severe drowsiness and a flu-like feeling. If you experience these symptoms, get fresh air and seek help immediately for possible carbon monoxide poisoning in the local hospital ER where they will conduct a simple blood test.   

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) in the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs offers and informative consumer alert that covers tips on how to determine the proper size of a generator to purchase, and how to install and use a generator safely. The consumer alert is available on the MPSC website: or by calling 800-292-9555.

Some safety tips for using generators include: 

  • Never operate a generator indoors or in an unventilated area. The exhaust contains deadly carbon monoxide fumes.
  • Do not store gasoline for a generator indoors. Gasoline should be stored in an approved, non-glass safety container. Extinguish all flames or cigarettes when handling gasoline or the generator. Always have a fully charged, approved fire extinguisher located near the generator. 
  • Make sure you have enough fuel to run a generator for an extended period of time; during a power outage, gas stations may be closed. 
  • Never refuel a generator while it is running. Shut it off and let it cool for 10 minutes before refueling to minimize the danger of fire. 
  • Parts of the generator are very hot during operation. Avoid contact especially with the muffler area. Keep children away at all times. 
  • Protect the generator from rain and other moisture sources to prevent electrocution. 
  • When not in use, store the generator in a dry location such as a garage or shed.

The MPSC also recommends that homeowners put together an emergency use kit for their home to prepare for power outages. The kit should include: 

  • Flashlights 
  • Battery powered radio 
  • Extra batteries 
  • Candles 
  • Blankets 
  • First aid kit 
  • Nonperishable food 
  • Battery operated lantern 
  • Drinking water (one gallon per person per day) 
  • Some emergency cash

The MPSC recommends that you keep a list of emergency numbers near the telephone - including the number to the local electric company. Unless telephone lines are down, landline telephone service should remain available during an electrical power outage. Cellular service may not work if power to the cell tower system is disrupted. It's also important to protect electrical items like TVs, VCRs, microwave ovens, or a home computer with voltage surge suppressors. If these items are not protected, unplug them before a storm begins to prevent damage. For more tips on surviving a power outage, check out the PSC's alert at:

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