Safety tips for using emergency heaters, power supplies

By Jennifer Whitlock
Field editor

After the massive ice and snow storm last winter, many Texans purchased portable generators and other essentials to prepare for future storms or weather-related disasters.

Frequently, inclement winter weather is accompanied by power outages, necessitating the use of these portable generators or other sources of heat and electricity.

Carbon monoxide poisoning and house fire-related deaths tend to increase during these times. But these deaths are preventable.

Following the safety tips below can help Texans stay safe the next time a natural disaster strikes.

Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO), which is colorless and odorless, is produced whenever fuel is burned in vehicles, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas stoves or ovens .

More than 400 Americans die each year from CO poisoning unrelated to fires, more than 20,000 go to the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The gas can build up in enclosed spaces, poisoning people and animals that breathe it by displacing oxygen in the bloodstream. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, often described as “flu-like”, include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and chest pain. confusion.

Heating systems, water heaters, and gas, oil or coal-fired appliances are common culprits of CO poisoning. But when natural disasters do occur, people frequently turn to portable generators to power heating and other necessary devices.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that approximately 70 Americans die each year from CO poisoning caused by portable generators.

Do not use a portable generator inside a house or garage, even with the doors and windows open. Large amounts of CO can overwhelm people within minutes, causing them to pass out and suffocate before they even recognize symptoms.

To mitigate the danger of CO poisoning, the CDC recommends placing generators more than 20 feet from homes, doors, and windows.

Battery operated or battery powered CO detectors can save lives. Regularly check CO detectors to make sure they are working properly in an emergency. Detectors should be placed near every sleeping area and on every floor of the home, according to the CPSC.

Other sources of CO poisoning in natural disaster situations include burning charcoal or propane grills indoors or sitting in a moving car inside the garage. Never use charcoal or propane grills indoors, and if a vehicle cannot be moved to an open space, never let it run for a period of time.

House fires
About 2,620 U.S. civilians died in house fires each year from 2015 to 2019.

While the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states that nearly half of home structure fires are caused by cooking, 13% of home fires and 18% of deaths during that four-year period were caused by heating equipment.

The NFPA advises those who use heaters to maintain three feet of space around furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, or portable heaters. Portable heaters and space heaters should be turned off when you leave the room or while you sleep.

Half of home heating equipment fires occur from December to February, according to NFPA data, and four in five deaths from home heating fires are caused by radiators.

Victims of house fires often failed to locate heaters far enough away from flammable materials such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses and bedding.

Fireplaces are another major source of home heating fires. NFPA research indicates that three in ten heating equipment fires are caused by fireplaces or chimneys.

People should only use fireplaces to heat homes after the fireplace and chimney have been professionally inspected and cleaned or repaired as necessary. Poorly maintained fireplaces and chimneys can exhibit dangerous creosote buildup, cracks, or other defects that increase the risk of CO poisoning or unconfined fires in the surrounding house framing or interior areas.

It is also important to know how to properly operate the flue, as a closed flue can also lead to CO poisoning.

In addition to the danger of CO poisoning, home fires can occur when people attempt to cook indoors using propane or charcoal grills. Never bring a grill designed for outdoor use indoors.

Follow the safety tips, save lives
Following these tips in cold weather and during power outages can save lives. Stay safe whatever the season and protect families by always using generators and heat sources responsibly.

More information about CO poisoning is available from the CDC.

The NFPA also has additional resources on the causes and risks of fires.

Rosemary C. Kearney