State Fire Marshal's Office
State Fire Marshal Urges Safety When Using Alternative Heating Sources During Extended Power Outages

Press Release Date:  Thursday, January 29, 2009  
Contact Information:  Dick Brown

Kentucky State Fire Marshal Bill Swope today urged wholesalers and retailers to make an increased effort to remind customers about steps to take in preventing portable generator accidents.


Hundreds of thousands of people across Kentucky are without power and the ice and cold weather are likely to cause power company crews even more problems in getting power restored. In some cases, it is estimated it could be another two to three weeks before everyone has electricity again.


The lack of power has caused many to seek alternative ways to heat their homes and keep food refrigerated. State Fire Marshal Swope said everyone should be aware of safety issues when selling and using portable generators and other sources of heat and power.


 “The wholesalers and retailers that sell gasoline and propane generators should make an increased effort to remind consumers about the dangers of improperly using these generators,” said Swope. “Since the ice and snow storms earlier this week, we have already seen a number of people overcome by carbon monoxide because they did not have adequate ventilation when operating their generator or alternative heat source.”


Along with the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), Fire Marshal Swope offered these safety reminders when using alternative heating and power sources:


  • Generators should be operated in well ventilated locations outdoors away from all doors, windows and vent openings.


  • The generator should be located so that exhaust fumes cannot enter the home through windows, doors or other building openings.


  • Battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with a battery back-up should be installed in the home, according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Should CO enter the home and pose a risk, an alarm will sound.


  • The generator must not be refueled while it is running. The generator should be turned off and allowed to cool down before refueling.


  • Fuel for the generator should never be stored in the home. Gasoline and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly labeled safety containers. They should be stored away from any fuel-burning appliance such as a gas hot water heater.


  • Appliances should be plugged directly into the generator or a heavy duty outdoor-rated extension cord. The cord should be checked for cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin. The house wiring should not be powered by plugging the generator into a wall outlet.


  • If the generator must be connected to the house wiring to power appliances, a qualified electrician should install a properly rated transfer switch in accordance with the National Electrical Code® (NEC) and all applicable state and local electrical codes.

“Carbon monoxide is a silent, deadly killer,” Swope said. “Because it is odorless it can go undetected until it is too late. Carbon monoxide will cause flu-like symptoms and should not be ignored.  Symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, headache, dizziness, blurred vision or light headedness. If you think you are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning you should get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances and leave the house.  Go to an emergency room and tell the physician you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. “


Other safety tips include:


Safety tips inside the home:

  • Install carbon monoxide alarms listed by an independent testing laboratory. Alarms should be in a central location outside each sleeping area. If bedrooms are spaced apart, each area will need an alarm.  
  • Call your local fire department's non-emergency number to find out what number to call if the carbon monoxide alarm sounds. Post that number by your telephone(s). Make sure everyone in the household knows the difference between the fire emergency and carbon monoxide emergency numbers (if there is a difference).
  • Test carbon monoxide alarms at least once a month and replace them according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Carbon monoxide alarms are not substitutes for smoke alarms. Know the difference in sounds.
  • Have fuel-burning heating equipment (fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, wood and coal stoves, space or portable heaters) and chimneys inspected by a professional every year before cold weather sets in.
  • When using a fireplace, open the flue for adequate ventilation.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.

Safety tips outside the home:

  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle, generator or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
  • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
  • Never use barbecue grills – which can produce carbon monoxide – in the home, garage or near building openings. Use them only outdoors.
When camping, remember to use battery-powered lights in tents, trailers and motor homes.