State Fire Marshal Urges Safety While Using Generators Install at least one carbon monoxide detector in every home

Contact: Mario L. Morrow 517-373-9280
Agency: Licensing and Regulatory Affairs

September 24, 2010. State Fire Marshal Ronald R. Farr today encourages 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.

"Although using a generator can help restore life to normal during power outages and emergencies, the primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire," said Farr. "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."

The U.S. Fire Administration in the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that carbon monoxide poisoning claims approximately 400 lives and sends another 20,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment every year. In many cases, these reported deaths and nonfatal poisonings were as a result of using a generator within the home or garage, operating equipment in enclosed places, or having unattended fires in a fireplace.

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, and weakness. If you experience these symptoms, get fresh air and seek help immediately at a local hospital ER where they will conduct a simple blood test for possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) in the Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth 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 1-800-292-9555.

Some tips 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 MPSC alert at: 

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