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Hurricane Sandy: Important Tips for Generator Users

By: Natalie Davis |

Parsippany Police Chief Anthony DeZenzo wants homeowners to remember that once Hurricane Sandy hits, your safety—and that of your neighbors—depends on how generators are used.

“Home generator safety is a critical issue during long-term power outages,” he said in a statement. “Portable generators, widely used when power lines are down, can prove fatal to homeowners, utility workers and even your neighbors when used improperly.”

One thing he said is crucial is to ensure that your power is off when using a generator.

“A generator connected to a home’s wiring or plugged into a regular household outlet can cause ‘backfeeding’ along power lines and electrocute anyone who comes in contact with them—even if the line seems dead,” he said. “It happens when a portable generator is connected directly to the home’s wiring without having a functional transfer switch. Without a transfer switch, a portable generator’s electricity can be sent back into the power grid from your house. This will energize the utility’s power lines on the street and poses an electrocution hazard for those who may not know that the voltage is present on the shared lines.”

Shutting power off before starting the generator, even if your regular electric service is down, ensures that no one is at risk of electrocution.

DeZenzo said everyone should assume that all power lines are energized, as the risk of electrocution is high if proper measures are not observed. Power may be out in your immediate area, but improperly connected portable generators are capable of backfeeding electricty to lines you may think are inactive. And should electricity be restored while connected to a generator, the machine and the home’s wiring could be damaged severely.

The New Jersey Division of Fire Safety serves as the central fire service agency in New Jersey. The division is responsible for the development and enforcement of the State Uniform Fire Code, as well as for implementing public education and firefighter training programs.

Division Director William Kramer Jr. warns that although portable generators can be very helpful to during outages, “It is imperative that the public follow safety guidelines when using one.”

Kramer outlines the guidelines:

  • Never connect a generator directly to your home’s wiring unless your home has been wired for generator use. Have a licensed electrician install the equipment necessary to safely connect emergency generators to your home.
  • Always plug appliances directly into generators. Connecting the generator to your home’s circuits or wiring must be done by a qualified, licensed electrician who will install a transfer switch to prevent backfeeding.
  • Use heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cords. Make sure extension cords are free of cuts or tears and the plug has three prongs. Overloaded cords can cause fires or equipment damage.
  • Ensure your generator is properly grounded.
  • Never overload a generator. A portable generator should only be used when necessary to power essential equipment or appliances.
  • Turn off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting it down.
  • Keep the generator dry. Operate it on a dry surface under an open structure.
  • Always have a fully charged fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Never fuel a generator while it is operating.
  • Read and adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions for safe operation. Never cut corners when it comes to safety.