Officials warn of generator risks

Reisdents need to take precautions.

Posted: 11:43 PM EDT Nov 01, 2012   Updated: 6:19 AM EDT Nov 02, 2012

Thursday night there were 15,000 households in Berks County still waiting for the lights to come back on since Sandy knocked them out. Many people turn to generators to get by, but a generator can be deadly.

Using a generator has its risks: electrocution, fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.

"It needs to be outside," said Chief Scott Brady of the Cumru Township Fire Department. "It can't be inside in a garage, in a basement anywhere in the house. It needs to be outside. A minimum of seven feet in the house. The further away, the better it is."

But in Spring Township, a running generator in a garage took the life of an elderly man. 

"We have meters that can detect carbon monoxide," said Brady.

Firefighters can read if there is carbon monoxide in the air, but for us it can be much more difficult.

"The exhaust system from a portable generator does produce CO or carbon monoxide, which is a colorless, odorless gas," said Brady.

Everyone knows you wouldn't leave a car running in a closed garage, and Chief Brady said a generator is much worse.

"From the amount of carbon monoxide that a portable generator produces is actually 100 times greater than what carbon monoxide would be from a car exhaust," said Brady.

You can't smell it or see it, but you might feel it.

"Carbon monoxide is very serious. Some of the health hazards associated with that would be dizziness, headaches, fatigue, being tired," said Brady.

Other signs are plants dying, sluggish pets, or condensation on walls and windows.

"Anything that burns will be producing carbon monoxide and that's why it's very important to have a carbon monoxide detector," said Brady.

And if it goes off or you experience the symptoms, call 9-1-1 and get fresh air outside until firefighters arrive.

A generator can come in handy when the power is out, but remember it can be deadly.