What to Do in an Electrical Emergency
Electrical appliances are staples of modern convenience. Where would we be without electric ovens to prepare our food, washers and dryers to handle our clothes and lights to illuminate our way in the dark? Electricity is an absolute must in the modern world, but with it comes numerous risks and potential hazards. Anything from a frayed cord to an overloaded circuit can cause a short or a spark, resulting in an electrical emergency.
Though you’re better protected from electrical emergencies when you regularly maintain your home’s electrical systems and appliances, electrical emergencies can happen. Everything from an electrical fire to electric shock may put you or your family at risk, so it’s important to have a plan in place and understand what to do in the event of an electrical emergency. To that end, we’ve provided some basic electrical emergency procedures to help you and your family understand and create an electrical emergency response plan in the event of an electrical fire, shock or fallen power line.
Sometimes a short in a circuit causes it, other times it’s a frayed cord placed near some curtains. No matter how they end up happening, electrical fires can be dangerous to deal with. Establishing emergency response procedures for electrical fires in your home is essential to maintaining the health and safety of your entire family.
Emergency response procedures for an electrical fire include:
- Cut the Power: The first thing you should do in any electrical fire is cut the power to the electrical system causing the problem. You can do this by flipping the switch on your home’s breaker box. Simply unplugging the appliance or flipping the switch still poses a risk, especially if the cause is a frayed wire or overheated appliance. If the fire has not yet fully started, this should be enough to stop the fire before it starts. This step is also important because it reduces the risk for electric shock for anyone handling the fire and allows you to use more resources while trying to stop the flame.
- Use a Fire Extinguisher: If you have one in your home, everyone should know how to put out an electrical fire with a fire extinguisher. If you were unable to cut the power to the source of the fire, you should only use a Class C-rated fire extinguisher. These use carbon dioxide or dry chemical extinguishers. If the power was cut, you should use a Class A extinguisher, which is water-based. Pull the pin depressing the handle and point the horn at the base of the fire before holding down the handle. Continue dispersing the chemical until the fire is fully extinguished. If you are not sure of your fire-extinguisher’s class, have it checked — Class A and Class C extinguishers are not interchangeable and should only be used in the described circumstances.
- Smother the Fire: If you do not have a fire extinguisher on hand, you should know how to put out an electrical fire without a fire extinguisher. If the power to the area is off, you can use either a fire blanket or water to extinguish the fire. However, if you cannot turn off the power or if you are not sure whether the power is off, do not use water and do not approach the fire, or else you risk electric shock.
- Practice Fire Safety: If you cannot control the fire, exit the building as quickly and calmly as possible before calling authorities. Remember to keep close to the ground to avoid smoke inhalation and stop, drop and roll if your clothing catches on fire.
- Call 911 and Exit: Always call 911 in the event of a fire, even if the fire is out. Smoldering objects are still able to reignite, especially if you were unable to cut power to the source of the fire.
One thing many homeowners are unaware of is that up to 90% of breaker panels are labeled incorrectly. Test your panels to make sure they are labeled correctly, and that you are able to shut off power effectively in an emergency.
Though it’s a good idea to know what to do in the event of an electrical fire, taking steps to prevent such fires is even more important. Avoid electrical fires by keeping flammable materials away from outlets, especially outlets currently in use. If you are using a power strip, be sure not to overload the strip or connect a string of strips together. You may also consider using surge protectors to help protect your electronics from overheating due to a power surge.
Contact with electricity sometimes happens, especially when electrical outlets and cords go without maintenance or if electrical appliances are placed near water. These cases can be particularly frightening, but it’s crucial to have electric shock emergency procedures in place in your home in the event of an accident. Here are a few things to keep in mind for your emergency response plan for an electrical shock:
- Do Not Touch: If someone comes in contact with electricity, do not, under any circumstances, touch them directly. If you contact that person while they are still connected to the electrical current, you will also get shocked or electrocuted. Stay calm and stay away.
- Keep Your Distance: If the cause of electrocution is a high voltage wire, stay at least 20 feet away from the wire. If the wire is jumping and sparking, stand even further away if possible.
- Turn off Power: As soon as you are aware of the contact with electricity, if you are close to the circuit breaker, turn off power to that part of the house. Do this as quickly as you can.
- Remove the Person: If it will take too long to get to the breaker, try to cut contact between the person and the electrical source using an insulated object. A wooden rod, PVC pipe or other material would work well in this case. Never, under any circumstances, use a wet or damp object. Use your best judgement to determine whether to remove the person from the shock or get to the breaker — the longer the person is in contact with the shock, the more likely the shock will be fatal. Once the person is removed from immediate danger, do not attempt to move them any further.
- Call for Help: Once you have turned off the power or have otherwise removed the person from the source of the shock, immediately call 911 for help. If you have first aid or CPR training, administer it to the victim. If you do not have training, the 911 operator can give you directions until a responder arrives. Do this even if the victim says they feel fine — electric shock can have strange effects on a person’s health that may not be immediately visible or noticeable, even to the victim.
Preventing electric shocks is the most important part of your electric shock emergency plan. If you have small children, cover all outlets with protectors and educate them on electrical safety as soon as they are old enough to understand. When doing electrical repairs around the house, consult or hire an electrician for any duties where you are unsure of what to do. Additionally, you may want to consider installing a safety switch in your home. It will monitor the flow of electricity through a circuit and immediately shut off the circuit if it detects a problem, turning off the power within 0.03 seconds. This can help prevent electrocution, as well as electrical fires.
Probably the most common emergency on this list, power failures and blackouts can occur for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s due to a storm, downed power line, energy shortage or a problem in your home’s power lines, blackouts can be a headache and can be dangerous for your home appliances. In the event of a power failure, take the following steps to protect your home and family:
- Check the Source: Sometimes, the cause of a blackout in your home is simply a short-circuit or tripped breaker. Check and reset your circuit breakers to ensure this isn’t the cause of your blackout.
- Be Prepared: Whether your area is prone to power outages or you’re simply expecting a bad storm, being prepared for a power outage brings you extra peace of mind. Keep a power outage emergency kit in an easily accessible location, equipped with alternative lighting options, like candles, alternative cooking and heating options, a battery-powered radio and fresh water supplies. You may also want to keep a battery-powered mobile phone charging station so you can keep your lines of communication open.
- Turn off Power toAppliances: As soon as a power outage occurs, turn off power to all heating and cooling appliances, such as cooking appliances, irons, heaters and air conditioners, and any electronics, via the circuit breaker. Turn off the branch circuits first, then the main breaker. Alternatively, ensure all of your electronics are plugged in to surge protectors so they are protected when the energy turns back on. You will also want to keep your food freezers and refrigerators closed to keep the food inside preserved as long as possible.
- Contact Your Distributor: Using your mobile phone, contact your distributor as soon as possible to notify them of your outage. They can give you an idea of what happened, what they are doing to fix the problem and how long the outage will last. This is a particularly important step if you have any special needs due to specialized medical devices and are signed up for an uninterrupted supply of power.
- Reset Safely: When power returns to your building, wait a few minutes before turning on your lights and appliances. The energy returning to the grid could be inconsistent, resulting in damage to your electronics if you turn them back on too quickly. Make sure to turn the main breaker back on first, then turn on the branch circuits.
If you require an uninterrupted supply of power, or you want to ensure a blackout doesn’t affect you, there are options, especially if you use solar panels or other alternative energy sources in your home. Battery banks, backup generators and other power storage devices can all help you keep the lights on a little longer after the grid goes out. If you have special needs, such as life supporting medical equipment on-premises, you can also talk to your distributor about setting up an uninterrupted supply of power. In both cases, ensuring your electrical hookups are in proper working order is extremely important.
Fallen Power Lines
Downed power lines pose a threat to you outside the house and should be treated with extreme caution. When near a fallen power line, keep the following in mind:
- Always Be Cautious: We tend to think of live lines as always sparking and letting off lights and sounds, but live power lines don’t always seem active. Even if you think the line is inactive, always treat it as an electricity hazard and stay a minimum of 40 feet away from the line. Be sure to check for any dangling power lines, fallen or dangling limbs, puddles, vehicles, metal fences and other conductive materials that could pose an electricity hazard.
- Avoid Trees: Trees in contact with power lines pose a serious threat to people, as living wood contains water and can be conductive. Even if you are not sure whether a line is in contact with a tree, avoid touching the tree or coming in contact with any material touching or surrounding the tree.
- Keep Others Away: When possible, ward people away from the downed power line until help arrives. If you are in a vehicle, turn on your hazard lights and park a good distance away from the area and remain in your vehicle until help arrives. If you are a pedestrian, stand away from the area in a safe spot off the road. If people stop and ask you what is going on, advise them that the line is down and help is on the way, but they should avoid the area and take a different route if possible.
- Immediately Contact Authorities: When you notice a downed power line, you should immediately notify the local distribution company in charge of the line.
These are steps to take if you avoid coming in contact with the power line. However, if your car comes in contact with the line, follow these safety rules:
- Stay Inside Your Car: Do not risk leaving your car. Even if you aren’t sure whether the line is live or not, do not risk coming into contact with the outside of your car. Only get out of your car when authorities tell you it is safe.
- Warn Others: Roll your window down and tell people to stay away from the area. Anyone in contact with the equipment or ground could be seriously injured.
- Call for Help: Call 911 as soon as possible. If you don’t have a phone, roll down your windows and sound the horn to call for help and explain the situation to passers-by.
- In Case of Fire, Exit Safely: If your car or the surrounding area catches fire and poses an immediate threat to your life, exit the vehicle safely. Remove any loose items of clothing, such as baggy jackets or scarves, keep your hands at your sides and off the metal of your car and get away from your vehicle. Keep your feet close together, with both feet touching the ground at the same time, and shuffle away from the vehicle without picking up your feet until you are a good distance away from the vehicle
If the downed power line is on your property, you’ll likely need to hire an electrician to fix the problem. A properly certified emergency electrician is the best choice in this case.
Learn More About Electrical Safety
If you’re looking for home electric repair services in Westchester NY, look no further than Lippolis Electric, Inc. We’ve been serving as emergency home electricians in Westchester County, NY for over 30 years with quality, knowledgeable service from a team of licensed professionals.
If you have questions about electrical safety or are looking for someone to assess your systems and provide residential electrical repairs in Westchester, NY, contact us today.