How to Handle Gas Containers, Generators and Electric Heaters Safely

By Carla Zanoni on November 6, 2012 1:47pm 

NEW YORK CITY — As New Yorkers struggle with lack of power and no heat in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, energy experts are urging residents throughout the five boroughs to be careful when using alternative sources to power and heat their homes.

Long lines of cars at gas stations are a common a sight right now, as are people queuing up to fill gas cans to fuel generators, but energy and safety experts say gas can be very dangerous and urge extreme care in handling.

Here are some important safety tips to follow:

Experts say that fuel for generators should only be used outside and not be stored in the home.

Keep gasoline only in tightly closed, approved containers and handle it carefully at all times. Use a funnel when pouring gas into safety containers (not made of glass) and never store fuel in non-reusable plastic containers (i.e., milk jugs), warns the National Fire Protection Association. And always place the container on the ground before filling it.

Gasoline, propane, kerosene and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly labeled containers and should never be stored near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage, experts warn.

If you spill gasoline on your clothing, avoid open flames, wet the clothing thoroughly and remove it slowly in order to avoid ignition by static electricity, gas supplier Shell warns consumers.

Then wash skin with warm (not hot) water and soap. Hot water will allow the toxic liquid to get into your pores. Soiled clothing should be aired outside and then washed in soapy lukewarm water. If there is a small gasoline spill in an enclosed area, Shell warns to ventilate the area immediately and wash the spot with warm (not hot) soapy water.

If the spill is in a large area, leave immediately and call the fire department. "If the fuel is spilled or the container is not sealed properly, invisible vapors from the fuel can travel along the ground and be ignited by the appliance's pilot light or by arcs from electric switches in the appliance," a FEMA guide on portable generators states The American Red Cross stresses caution when using generators and advises that the power sources should never be used indoors as carbon monoxide poisoning from “toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire” can be lethal.

 Neville Gordon, who was fortunate enough to be loaned this gas can by an employee of the closed Mobil Gas Station next door, spills some of his precious commodity on Monday November 05th, 2012. Neville stood in line for two and a half hours.
Neville Gordon, who was fortunate enough to be loaned this gas can by an employee of the closed Mobil Gas Station next door, spills some of his precious commodity on Monday November 05th, 2012. Neville stood in line for two and a half hours.
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DNAinfo/Theodore Parisienne

“Even if you cannot smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to CO. If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY - DO NOT DELAY,” reads the  site.

Make sure the generator is rated for the amount of power you will need for lighting, appliances and equipment. If your generator does not produce adequate power for your needs, stagger the use of your equipment. When refueling, be sure to shut off the generator and let it cool down as gasoline spilled onto hot engine parts could ignite.

For New Yorkers trying to keep warm, energy provider National Grid urges residents to keep space heaters at least three feet away from you and any flammable items in your home. Always plug directly into an outlet and never use an extension cord.

Remember to use glass doors or a metal screen in front of fireplaces in order to prevent sparks. Never use a stove top or oven to heat your home, as odorless, toxic and lethal fumes can fill your home.

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