Fire officials offer portable generator safety tips

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 17, 2021

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights residents have the power to keep their portable generator use from posing a danger to themselves, their property and others, according to officials from the Sterling Heights Fire Department.

Fire officials attested to recent mistakes that they saw made by residents who own and use portable generators at home, and officials added that precautions can curb the risk of fires or disasters.

Sterling Heights Fire Marshal Shawn Allen said that just about every time a long-term power outage happens, such as the one in August, the department sees people misusing generators. The longer the power outage lasts, the more people are worried about their food spoiling, he explained.

“We actually saw a generator inside a hotel office this last outage, believe it or not,” Allen said.

Allen said the department usually sees problems when carbon monoxide makes people sick due to the generators running in their garages. The drywall separating the home and the garage is not enough to prevent carbon monoxide from getting inside the home, he explained.

Allen said everyone should have a working carbon monoxide detector in their home, as well as working smoke alarms.

“Our suggestion is you have to use your generator always outside,” he added. “I always tell people, 10 feet away from the house.”

Assistant Fire Chief Edwin Miller said his department doesn’t keep track of people’s generator usage, but he believes that the recent stormy weather and resulting power interruptions have caused more people to use them.

Miller also described the importance of keeping portable generators in a safe area.

“The thing that people mess up the most is trying to keep their generators in a safe location while using them properly,” Miller said. “As an example, people attempt to put them in the garage and close them up. At the same time, they’re filling up their house up with carbon monoxide while the generator is running.”

Fire officials also said the generator shouldn’t be near vents, windows or doors.

Electrical safety is also important. To prevent conditions for a shock, the generators should not be used in an area that is wet, officials said. The Fire Department said only heavy-duty extension cords should be used when hooking appliances to the generator.

Allen added that people shouldn’t hook up a generator to a meter box unless they have an approved switchover device, and neither should they overload the generator.

Fire is another possible dangerous outcome that arises from improper generator use. Miller warned against the dangers of spillage and refueling generators.

“They should never refuel the generator while it’s hot or running,” he said. “Even though there may not be a flame, the heat of the muffler is enough to ignite the fumes of gasoline.”

Learn more about the Sterling Heights Fire Department by visiting or by calling (586) 446-2950.