CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — As Central Illinois plunges into freezing temperatures, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is urging people to protect themselves against carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, fires, and other storm hazards with some safety tips.

CPSC said consumers need to be careful when storms knock out electrical power as portable generators create a risk of CO poisoning, known as the invisible killer, that can kill in minutes. They report that an average of 85 people die in the U.S. each year from CO poisoning from portable generators. The poison is colorless and odorless, and anyone exposed to it may become unconscious before experiencing symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, or weakness that can lead to death.

The CPSC shared the following safety tips to keep you and your family safe when using generators, CO and smoke alarms, and other fire hazards such as candles and heaters.

Using a generator safely

  • Never operate a portable generator inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace, or shed. Opening doors or windows will not provide enough ventilation to prevent the buildup of lethal levels of CO.
  • Operate portable generators outside only, at least 20 feet away from the house, and direct the generator’s exhaust away from the home and any other buildings that someone could enter, while keeping windows and other openings closed in the path of the generator’s exhaust.
  • Do not operate a generator on an outside porch or in a carport. They are too close to the home.
  • Check that portable generators have been maintained properly, and read and follow the labels, instructions, and warnings on the generator and in the owner’s manual.
  • Look for portable generators that have a CO shut-off safety feature, which is designed to shut the generator off automatically when high levels of CO are present around the generator.

Check CO and smoke alarms

  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or CO alarms with battery backup on each level and outside separate sleeping areas at home. Interconnected CO alarms are best; when one sounds, they all sound.  A CO alarm is your last line of defense when using a generator.
  • Make sure smoke alarms are installed on every level and inside each bedroom at home. 
  • Test CO and smoke alarms monthly to make sure they are working properly, and replace batteries, if needed.
  • Never ignore an alarm when it sounds. Get outside immediately, then call 911.
  • Clear snow away from the outside vents for fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces so that dangerous carbon monoxide does not build up in the house.

Dangers of portable heaters

  • Keep all sides of the portable heater at least three feet from beds, clothes, curtains, papers, sofas, and other items that can catch fire.
  • Always use a wall outlet.
  • Never use a power strip
  • Never run the heater’s cord under rugs or carpeting.
  • Make sure the heater is not near water. Never touch it if you are wet.
  • Place the heater on a stable, level surface, located where it will not be knocked over.
  • Never leave running unattended in a confined space to reduce hyperthermia hazards.
  • If the heater’s cord or plug is hot, disconnect the heater and contact an authorized repair person. If any part of the outlet is hot, contact a certified electrician.

Charcoal and Candles

  • Never use charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal in an enclosed space can produce lethal levels of CO. Do not cook on a charcoal grill in a garage, even with the door open.
  • Use caution when burning candles. Use flashlights instead. If using candles, do not burn them on or near anything that can catch fire. Never leave burning candles unattended.
  • Extinguish candles when leaving the room and before sleeping.

Gas Leaks

  • If you smell or hear gas leaking, leave your home immediately and contact local gas authorities from outside the home.
  • Do not operate any electronics, such as lights or phones, before leaving.
Courtesy CPSC