Electrical Fire Prevention
Be Fire Prevention Smart — Don’t Get Burned!
Electricity usually makes life easier by powering kitchen appliances, gadgets, and electronics we use for entertainment. However, that same electricity contains the potential to destroy homes and take lives. Electric fires are more destructive than any other type of fire, and they are twice as deadly.
Vera Water and Power has 7 ways to help you keep your electric system safe:
- Consider getting an electric inspection of your home, especially if it is an older home, or you have never had an inspection.
- Do not use water to extinguish an electrical fire. Water conducts electricity, and you could get an electric shock. Use an extinguisher that is approved for use on electric fires.
- Flickering lights, warm, cracked, or sparking outlets all indicate electric problems.
- If circuits trip, fuses blow, someone gets a shock, your home has an electric problem. Get an electric inspection.
- Do not overload outlets, use an extension cord as a permanent wiring solution, or use light bulbs that are not rated for the socket.
- Contact an electrician about installing an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI). An AFCI monitors the flow of electricity in your home. If the flow of electricity is irregular and could cause a fire, the AFCI shuts off electricity. An AFCI costs around $35, plus the cost of professional installation. The cost also depends on the size of your home and how many circuit breakers you have.
- Inspect electric plugs and cords annually. If they are frayed or cracked, repair or replace them. Do not place cords under rugs, or staple or nail them to the wall.
Reduce the Risk of Electrical Fires With AFCIs
December, January, and February are the leading months for home fires in the U.S., according to the National Fire Protection Association. One of the causes of these fires is electrical malfunction. The Safe Electricity program shares information on the warning signs of an electrical problem in your home and how adding arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) can help prevent electrical fires.
Overloaded circuits, electrical faults, and faulty wiring can all cause electrical fires. It is a good idea to get an electrical inspection of your home, especially if it is an older home or you never had an inspection. Signs of electrical problems in a home include blown fuses, tripped circuits, flickering lights and warm, cracked, or sparking outlets.
The Chicago Tribune reported on an electrical fire that caused thousands of dollars of damage in June 2016 in Elgin, Ill. The blaze began in the home’s attic due to the incorrectly installed electrical wiring in the home and the smolder began in the insulation.
Electrical arc faults occur when an electric current flows through an unplanned path. AFCIs can reduce the chance of electrical fires by sensing arcing conditions, distinguishing between normal and unintended arcing. When an abnormal or dangerous arc is detected, the AFCI de-energizes the circuit.
Research on arc fault safety precautions began in the late 1980s and early 1990s. AFCIs were first mentioned in the National Electrical Code (NEC) in 1999. The 2014 NEC requires AFCIs be installed in all areas of new residential construction with the exception of bathrooms, garages, and outside areas.
There are different types of AFCIs available. For installation and in order to determine which type is best for your home’s safety, contact a professional electrician.
Branch/feeder AFCIs are designed to primarily handle parallel faults and are installed at the origin of a branch circuit, such as a panel board, and protect the entire circuit.
Combination AFCIs became required, beginning in 2008, for new residential constructions. They are designed to protect against both parallel and series faults. In addition, they are more sensitive to faults, tripping at 5 amps.
Outlet circuit AFCIs protect cords and equipment that are plugged into an outlet. They are installed at a branch circuit outlet and provide both parallel and series arc-fault protection. However, they do not provide arc-fault protection upstream from the device.
Downed Power Lines
In partnership with the Electrical Safety Foundation International, we want to ensure your safety when living and working around electrical power. We encourage you to visit their highly informative website for extensive resources on safety.
Remember, downed power lines can be deadly. Always assume a downed power line is energized and avoid going near it or anything in contact with. Use caution. Downed power lines can energize the ground up to 35 feet away.
If You See a Downed Power Line, Notify the Local Authorities Immediately
Never drive over a downed power line or water that’s in contact with a downed power line. Never try to move a downed power line. Even using items that typically are not conductive WILL NOT prevent injury or death.
If your car comes in contact with a power line, stay in your vehicle until help comes. Do not touch any part of your car’s frame or any other metal. Use a cell phone or honk your horn to summon help. Allow only rescue personnel to approach your car!
If Your Car is in Contact With a Downed Power Line and You Must Exit Due to Fire or Another Imminent Threat
- Do not touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time with any part of your body or clothing.
- Open the door to your vehicle without touching the metal door frame.
- Jump out of the vehicle with both feet together and so both feet land at the same time.
- Shuffle away so that the toe of one foot shuffles forward along the length of the other foot, ensuring that both feet are in constant contact and always touching the ground.
If you witness a car collision with a power pole, do not approach the accident. By trying to help, you will put your own life at risk. The best thing to do is contact emergency responders and stay far away from the accident.
Power lines may be difficult to see if they are covered in snow or ice, so be cautious if you must be out driving after a winter storm.
Child and Student Safety
- Whatever you do, don’t overload your plugs or extension cords.
- Keep electrical cords out of the way. Avoid making cords a trip hazard.
- Never climb into a substation. If your toy, ball or pet are inside an electrical substation, have an adult call the power company to come and retrieve it for you.
- Never pull an electrical cord from the wall.
- Don’t fly your kite near power lines or substations.
- Have an adult help you when using electrical appliances.
- Look up and live. Whenever climbing a tree be sure there aren’t any power lines nearby.
- Have your parents install tamper resistant receptacles on outlets. Outlet covers are out now! Kids know just how to get those covers off! Besides, the national testing labs no longer approve.
- Help keep your parent safe. Remind them to look up and watch out for overhead power lines when they are using a ladder and working outside.
- Remember, electricity and water don’t mix.
Birds on a Wire
While it is safe for a bird to sit on an overhead power line, it is not safe for people to be near overhead power lines.
So, how can birds sit on a power line unharmed?
Vera Water and Power reveals insights into the “bird on a wire” phenomenon and separates fact from fiction.
For an electrical charge, or electrons, to move from one spot to another, it must be in contact (or sometimes close proximity) with conductive material that has at least two different points of potential. Electrons will move toward lower potential. That is why it is said that electricity is always looking for a path to ground (lower potential).
A bird remains safe because it is sitting on a single wire and is at one point of contact—and consequently one electrical potential. If the bird sitting at this one potential was to also contact another object of different potential, that bird would be completing a path to ground, causing severe electric shock or electrocution. For larger birds with wider wingspans, reaching and touching another cable is a real hazard.
Getting near overhead power lines is also a serious hazard for people. The utility professionals who work near overhead power lines must wear appropriate safety clothing, use tested safety equipment, and take training to be able to do the installation, maintenance, and repair work they do. It is vital that safety equipment is regularly tested as even non-conductive materials, such as rubber, wood, or plastic, can conduct electricity if damp, dirty, or damaged.
It is a myth that all power lines are insulated with a protective coating that prevents shocks. Most power lines are actually not insulated. The coating that is on lines is for weatherproofing and will not offer any protection from the electrical current.
6 safety tips from Vera Water and Power to help you be more aware of your surroundings and stay safer around electricity:
- Always look up and look out for overhead power lines.
- Keep yourself and any equipment at least 10 feet away from power lines.
- Remember that getting too close to a power line, even without touching it, is very dangerous.
- Avoid working directly under powerlines.
- When working with tall equipment such as ladders, poles, or antennas, carry them in a horizontal position as to not risk contacting overhead lines.
- Always assume that power lines, even if they have come down, carry an electrical charge.
Teach Your Child Electric Safety
One of a parent’s highest priorities is to protect their children. One way to do this is by teaching them about safety around electricity in your own home. Start teaching kids at an early age about electrical safety.
GFCIs Save Lives
Twelve-year-old Caitlyn Mackenzie was killed by household current when she touched a lamp while still damp after swimming in a pool. Her life may have been spared if the outdoor outlet that the lamp was connected to was equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).
Water and Electricity Don’t Mix
Teach children that water and electricity do not mix. Children should never play with or use electronics around water. Make sure GFCIs are installed anywhere electricity and water could meet to help prevent shocks. GFCIs detect and prevent dangerous situations where an electric shock could occur.
Only Electric Plugs Go in Outlets
Inform kids that the only objects that go into outlets are electric plugs. Sticking other items in an electric socket can lead to an electric shock or death. As a parent, you can help prevent this by having tamper resistant outlets (TROs) installed. A TRO has a shutter system that only accepts electric plugs. Another option is to use simple outlet plugs, however, these can be easily removed.
Leave Electric Cords Alone
Tell children that electric cords should be left alone. A curious child may put a cord into his or her mouth and could potentially suffer an electric burn. Additionally, kids should be taught to never pull a plug out of the socket by the cord. This could damage the cord. It is a good idea to leave cords out of sight so children are not tempted to play with them.
Handle Electronics With Care
Emphasize that electronics and their accessories have to be handled with care. Also, advise kids to never stick fingers or objects into toasters or any other electrical appliance. Encourage younger children to ask for help when they want to use an electronic device.
Know the Numbers
Include utility emergency numbers with other posted emergency phone numbers, and instruct children how to call for help in an emergency.
Outdoor Child Safety
7 ways for kids to stay safe around outdoor electrical equipment
When temperatures begin to rise, outdoor areas begin to fill with both children and adults enjoying the weather. It’s easy for the electrical equipment that we see every day to fade into the background, but it’s important to always take safety precautions around it. Take time to explain to your kids how to be safe around electricity before they head outdoors.
Vera Water and Power provides the following 7 tips to share with kids when having a conversation about how to stay safe around outdoor electrical equipment.
- Always stress the importance of safety around electrical substations. Never enter an electrical substation for any reason. Even if a pet has entered inside or a ball goes over the fence, do not go in. Call the electrical utility for help. Substations should only be entered by professionals.
- Kites should only be flown during good weather conditions and in large, open areas like a park or a field. Always look up and check for the location of overhead power lines and other electrical equipment, so that you can be sure to fly kites far away from them. A kite string can conduct electricity from an overhead line directly to the person on the ground.
- Before climbing a tree, check that the tree and its branches are not located near any overhead power lines. Climbing a tree in contact with a power line can energize the tree with electricity and lead to electric shock or death.
- Never throw objects at power lines.
- If you ever see downed electrical wires, stay far away. Call 911 to have the utility notified. Downed lines do not have to be arcing or sparking to be carrying electricity and be dangerous.
- Do not play with, tamper with, or open outdoor electrical boxes. They contain electrical equipment for underground service to homes and businesses.
- Check the forecast before going outside. Do not plan outdoor activities if a thunderstorm is expected because there is no safe place from lightning when you are outside. It is important to follow the advice of the National Weather Service, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”
3 steps for caregivers to ensure safe outdoor play
- Make sure all outdoor outlets are equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to help prevent electric shock.
- Keep all long handled tools out of reach of children so they will not be tempted to reach for or accidentally hit an overhead power line.
- Pay attention to trees and power lines. Do not plant trees near them, and if there is a tree that has grown into a power line, make sure to call a professional to trim the tree.
Personalization is a big trend for college dorm rooms and shared housing facilities. College furnishings — from bedding and décor to kitchen supplies and electronics — are often reflective of interests and future aspirations. One essential for the college residence is safety.
There is a tendency for college students to want to bring everything they own. The limited number of electric outlets in student rooms can tempt many to use multiple extension cords and power strips, which can cause cords to overheat, creating shock and fire hazards.
Potentially older wiring in student housing and apartments may not be able to handle the increased electrical demand of today’s college student. If use of an appliance frequently causes power to trip off, or if its power cord or the outlet feels hot, the appliance should be disconnected immediately, and the condition reported to the landlord or campus housing staff.
Ten safety tips to help prevent and reduce the risk of electrical fires in student housing
- Only purchase and use electrical products tested for safety. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes a list of approved testing laboratories. Some common approved safety labels include: Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and MET Laboratories (MET).
- Avoid overloading extension cords, power strips, or outlets.
- Use power strips with an over-current protector that will shut off power automatically if there is too much current being drawn.
- Never tack or nail an electrical cord to any surface or run cords across traffic paths or under rugs where they can be trampled or damaged.
- Use the correct wattage light bulbs for lamps and fixtures. If no indication is on the product, do not use a bulb with more than 60 watts. Use cooler, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).
- Keep all electrical appliances and cords safely away from bedding, curtains, papers, and other flammable material.
- Make sure outlets around sinks are equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) before use. If they are not, contact the resident assistant, camping housing staff, or landlord.
- Unplug small appliances when not in use and all electronics when away for extended periods.
- Always use microwave-safe containers. Glass, ceramic containers, and plastics labeled “microwave-safe” should always be used. Metal and aluminum foil can damage the microwave or start a fire. If the microwave is damaged in any way, do not use it.
- Smoke detectors should never be disabled, and fire alarms should never be ignored or taken casually as a drill. Every time a fire alarm sounds, residents should calmly and quickly follow practiced procedures and immediately exit the building.
Please remind all students that in the event of a fire, it is important to follow safety procedures and get out of harm’s way immediately. Remind students that property and valuables can be replaced, but lives cannot.
7 electrical safety questions every parent should ask the college or university about their student’s living accommodations
- How many fires have occurred on campus in the past few years?
- Does every room have a smoke alarm?
- Are the residence halls equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system?
- How much fire prevention training do the staff and resident assistants receive?
- How many false alarms have occurred in the residence halls
- How often are fire drills conducted?
- What is the school’s disciplinary policy against students who cause false alarms or fail to evacuate when an alarm sounds?
It is an exciting time for college-bound students. These tips and questions are a way to help ease some of the fears and help college be a rewarding and safe experience.
Don’t Go Poking Around Electrical Substations
On nice days, people enjoy the outdoors in a variety of ways. While some participate in a sport or go on walks, in today’s world, many others spend this time on handheld devices.
Whether you are enjoying fun in the sun or playing the latest game on your phone or tablet, Vera Water and Power advises everyone to be alert of their surroundings and to stay safely away from electrical equipment.
Buzzing with hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity, an electrical substation is not a place you want to end up.
- Never go into a substation for any reason.
- Never attempt to retrieve a ball or any toy from these areas.
There is no game or piece of equipment important enough to enter a substation. No game is worth your life. Many popular gaming apps on handheld devices make use of the GPS feature. Although these games may persuade you to go to places you have never been before, do not allow these games to impair your judgment.
- Stay alert, and stay away from substations and other electrical equipment.
- Vera encourages parents to talk to their children about the importance of keeping a safe distance from electrical equipment and substations as well.
- If you see someone enter an electrical substation that should not be there, call the authorities and Vera Water and Power. The only people that should enter a substation are utility workers.
- Never climb power poles or trees near power lines, and stay far away from downed power lines. They do not have to be arcing or sparking to be energized.
Lightning Storm Safety
Quick as Lightning, You Could Lose Your Life
Lightning strikes the U.S. millions of times each year, and every strike is a potential killer.
To keep your family safe, it is important to know what actions to take during a thunderstorm.
There is no safe place from lightning when you are outside.
To be as safe as possible, you must seek shelter indoors or in an enclosed metal topped vehicle when there is a thunderstorm in the area.
One good way to stay safe from the threat of lighting is to plan ahead.
Listen to the forecast to know if there is a danger of severe weather, and make sure you can get to a safe location if a thunderstorm develops.
Remember, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.
It is a good idea to heed the advice of the National Weather Service, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”
However, if you make it indoors, that does not mean you are completely clear from danger.
Electrical current from lightning can enter your home through:
- phone lines
- electrical wires
- cables, and
During a thunderstorm
- Stay away from electrical outlets and any corded devices that could carry an electrical surge if lighting were to hit your home
- Turn off or unplug such appliances
- Stay away from television sets
- Do not depend on surge protectors to absorb a lightning strike
- Turn off your air conditioner to protect the compressor from a power surge and avoid a costly repair job
- Avoid water and contact with piping, including sinks, baths, and faucets
- Do not wash dishes, shower, or bathe during a thunderstorm
- Avoid washers and dryers since they not only connect with the plumbing and electrical systems but also contain an electrical path from the outside through the dryer vent
After a storm
- Wait until 30 minutes have passed without lightning or thunder before returning outside. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles from the area it is raining.
If a person is struck by lightning
- Call 911, and care for the victim immediately. You are not in danger of being shocked or electrocuted by the victim.
Do-It-Yourselfers, Make Safety and Efficiency A Top Priority
Before people start tackling do-it-yourself projects, Vera Water and Power asks everyone to take precautions before starting renovations or construction projects, especially when working around electrical equipment and overhead power lines.
Simple actions like replacing standard light bulbs with Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs and sealing air leaks with weather stripping or caulk can produce substantial savings on your energy bill.
Vera Water and Power recommends Do-It-Yourselfers keep the following in mind:
- Make sure you have the right tools and equipment for the job. Use only extension cords that are rated for outdoor use when working outside. Keep your work area tidy and don’t allow your power cords to tangle. Make sure outlets have ground fault protection. Use a portable ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) cord if your outdoor outlets don’t have GFCIs.
- Look up and around you. Be sure to lower your long equipment when you are moving it. Carry ladders and other long items horizontally whenever possible. Remember, aluminum ladders, as well as wooden ladders, can conduct electricity.
- Be especially careful when working near power lines attached to your house. Keep equipment and yourself at least 10 feet from lines. Never trim trees near power lines— leave that to the professionals. Never use water or blower extensions to clean gutters near electric lines. Contact a professional maintenance contractor.
- Use heavy-duty, three-prong extension cords for tools with three-prong plugs. Never remove or bend back the third prong on extension cords. It is a safety feature designed to reduce the risk of electrocution or shock.
- If your projects include digging, like building a deck or planting a tree, call 8-1-1 your local underground utility locator before you begin. Never assume the location or depth of underground utility lines. This service is free, prevents the inconvenience of having utilities interrupted, and can help you avoid serious injury.
- If it’s raining or the ground is wet, don’t use electric power yard tools. Never use electrical appliances or touch circuit breakers or fuses when you’re wet or standing in water. Keep electric equipment at least 10 feet from wet areas.
Make certain home electrical systems and wiring is adequate to support increased electric demands of new electric appliances, home additions or remodeling projects. Home electrical systems age and deteriorate over time which means they’re less efficient and more costly than newer systems. Replace worn and outdated wiring and add enough outlets for appliances and electronics. Vera strongly recommends this NOT be a do-it-yourself project. Where electricity is concerned, it’s always best to consult a professional.
10 ways to keep your pets safe
Regardless of how large or small a pet may be, there are always potential electrical hazards around the corner.
Vera Water and Power offers ten safety tips to help you protect your pets from electrical hazards around the house:
- Discourage pets from sleeping near or behind electronics. Many pets are attracted to the warmth, but this is a potential fire hazard.
- Make sure plugs are completely plugged into an outlet. If not plugged in correctly, curious pets can get zapped.
- Cover cords with cable jackets or PVC pipe to prevent pets from playing with or chewing on cords.
- Wind up excess cords and hide from view.
- Coat cords with a bitter substance to make them undesirable to pets. Appropriate and safe products can be purchased online or at pet stores.
- Unplug all appliances not in use to cut electric current.
- Continuously check cords for fraying or bite marks.
- Place cords out of pet’s reach, whether hanging off the floor or behind furniture.
- Provide your pet with new and different chew toys to keep them entertained so electrical cords do not become a dangerous replacement.
- Make sure cords attached to an aquarium have a drip loop—cords that slack below the outlet—to make sure water does not run into the outlet.
If a pet should receive a shock, never touch the animal until you know it is away from the power source or the electric current is shut off to prevent injury yourself. Once it is clear to approach the pet, give it medical treatment immediately.
Holiday safety: Cords are not a chew toy
At the holidays, there are some special safety precautions you should take.
Did you know? The most common type of electrical injury for pets is electrocution from chewing on an electrical cord.
Pet-proof your home by covering or enclosing electrical cords and taking steps to prevent other electrical hazards.
Although any pet can chew on a cord, puppies are the most likely culprit. Pups are busy, and they may gnaw on an electrical cord without anyone realizing it. If you see burns in or around your pet’s mouth, singed hair or whiskers around the mouth, or notice shortness of breath or other respiratory issues, seek immediate medical attention for your pet.
Sparkling lights and dazzling decorations are hallmarks of the holiday season. Make sure your holiday decorating is done with safety in mind.
14 tips for a safer holiday season
- Use only holiday lights that have been safety tested and have the UL label.
- Before decorating, check each light strand for broken sockets, frayed cords, or faulty plugs.
- Always be sure to unplug the lights when replacing a bulb.
- Don’t string together more than three standard-size sets of lights or you could risk overheating the circuit.
- Outdoors, use only lights, cords, animated displays and decorations rated for outdoor use.
- Cords should be plugged into outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Use a portable GFCI if your outdoor outlets don’t have them.
- Take extra care not to throw strings of lights over tree branches that are near power lines and service connections.
- Place fresh-cut trees away from heat sources—such as heat registers, fireplaces, radiators, and televisions.
- Also, remember to water fresh-cut trees frequently.
- Match plugs with outlets. Don’t force a three-pronged plug into a two-pronged outlet or extension cord.Don’t remove the third prong.
- Keep electric cords out of high-traffic areas. Do not run them through doorways; staple, nail, or tack them to the wall; or hide them under rugs or carpets.
- Always unplug lights before going to bed or leaving your home. Make sure extension cords are in good condition and are UL-approved cords rated to carry the electrical load you will connect to them.
- Don’t let children or pets play with light strands for electrical decorations.
- If you spot an electrical danger—such as flickering or dimming lights or sparks from outlets, plugs, or cords—make sure to unplug the malfunctioning appliance immediately and get a replacement.
We wish you and yours a bright, safe holiday season.
Holiday Gift Ideas for Safety
Six safety products to protect your home, family, and loved ones from electrical shocks and fire
- Ground fault circuit interrupters — These devices should be professionally installed on outlets in wet areas of the home — kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and basement. GFCIs stop the flow of electricity to prevent shocks if there is a problem. When properly used, they save lives. It’s important to know how to test and re-set GFCIs. As a gift, you could get a portable GFCI for friends who enjoy working outdoors. Even if their home or exterior outlets do not have a GFCI, they can have the protection of a GFCI by using an extension cord.
- Heavy-duty extension cord — Often the tools or equipment necessary for larger projects are powered by extension cords that are inadequate for the heavier electrical load. Make sure the cord can handle the electric demands of your equipment.
- Power strip with built-in circuit breaker — Designed for safety, the built-in circuit breaker prevents overloading of the power strip. Overloaded power strips can cause fires and electric shocks. This device often comes with the added feature of surge protection/surge prevention.
- Smoke detector — Most homes could use more of these inexpensive safety devices. Since the primary job of a smoke detector is to awaken sleeping persons to warn them of fire danger, put a battery-operated detector in each sleeping room and place additional detector(s) in the hallway or area by the bedrooms within five feet of the door to these rooms. In a house with bedrooms upstairs, one additional detector should be placed near the top of the stairs to the bedroom area.
- Batteries for smoke detectors — This is a simple but important gift, one that reminds the recipient the importance of replacing batteries in smoke detectors twice a year. Fresh batteries save lives. Be sure to test smoke detectors regularly.
- Circuit breaker fault detector — This small hand-held device safely detects faults in the circuit breaker panel and eliminates the guesswork of which one has tripped.
Testing laboratories such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL) are recommended.
Be sure to read all manufacturer directions prior to installing or plugging in any electronic devices. Check and replace any electrical components that have worn, cracked or frayed cords and only use appliances in good condition.
Make sure your safety and that of your loved ones tops your list this holiday season. Remember, safe and happy memories will last a lifetime.