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“At least 49 dead amid winter weather, power outages”

Sadly that is a real headline and many of those deaths were preventable. Here are some things you can do to keep your family warm and safe during an extended winter power outage.

Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Check or change the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector every six months. If you don’t have a battery-powered or battery back-up carbon monoxide detector, buy one soon.
  • Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Keep vents and flues free of debris. Debris can block ventilation lines.
  • Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
  • Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine less than 20 feet from an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.
  • Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.
  • Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open.
  • If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911 or a health care professional right away.

Portable generator safety

  • A generator should only be used outside on stable ground and away from any windows and vents to prevent deadly fumes from entering the home through an opening. Keep the generator dry. Operate on a dry surface under an open, canopy- like structure.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Dry your hands before touching the generator.
  • Plug appliances directly into generator or use a heavy-duty outdoor- rated extension cord. Make sure the entire extension cord is free of cuts or tears and the plug has all 3 prongs, especially a grounding pin.
  • Do not connect the generator to your home’s wiring. Power can flow out of your home into the electric system creating a hazard for crews working in the area.
  • Never fill the generator with fuel while it is running or still hot. Turn it off and let it cool. Fuel spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.
  • Always store fuel outside of living areas, away from fuel-burning appliances, in properly labeled, non-glass containers.
  • You will not be able to use all appliances at once. You may have to turn off some appliances to avoid overload. And make sure any connected appliances are off before starting the generator.
  • Generators should be used for emergency standby power ONLY and for short periods of time. Refrigerators do not need to run 24 hours a day to keep food fresh. Monitor the internal temperature, which should be kept at 40 degrees or below.
  • Make sure you have working, properly installed carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in your home. CO is an odorless, colorless gas produced by fuel combustion that can make you ill with flu-like symptoms and in extreme cases can be fatal.

Candles and matches

  • Use flashlights or battery-powered candles whenever possible instead of burning candles
  • Place candles in sturdy candleholders, protected by a glass chimney
  • Keep candles away from flammable materials, and out of reach of children and pets
  • Never leave candles unattended, blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed
  • Avoid candles in bedrooms
  • Keep matches and lighters away from children and never let children light candles unless they are supervised


  • Make sure your stove and oven are turned off as soon as the power goes out and that nothing is left on the stove or in the oven. This prevents fires if the power is restored while you are sleeping.
  • Unplug small appliances and electronics as there may be a power surge when electricity is restored.
  • Place portable electrical generators outside and make sure generator fumes don’t get into your home
  • Keep generators and hot exhaust gases away from anything flammable
  • Store generator fuel outside, in an approved container
  • Shut down and let generators cool before refueling
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using your generator

Smoke & Carbon Monoxide alarms

  • Make sure you have smoke and carbon monoxide alarms that are battery-protected during a power outage; electrically connected alarms will not work when the power is out
  • Test all smoke and carbon monoxide alarms regularly

General heating safety

  • If the heat goes out in your home, keep warm by wearing several layers of clothing and a wool hat. Close off rooms you do not need and use only safe alternative sources of heat, like wood and other fuel-burning stoves. Also, eat well-balanced meals and high-energy food to allow your body to produce its own heat.
  • Keep anything that can burn or that is flammable at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.
  • Have a three-foot “kid & pet-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.
  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.

General power outage safety

  • Assume all downed wires are live. Avoid downed wires or any objects that are in contact with them. Call and notify the utility company or 911 of a downed power line immediately.
  • Many injuries can occur in the aftermath of a storm as people come in contact with debris and other hazards. Wear sturdy, hard-soled shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when handling or walking near debris to prevent injuries from hazards such as nails and broken glass.

If you need more ideas on how to stay warm when there is no power, then check out our article: How to keep your house warm during a power outage.

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