Oswego County News Release
Oswego County Public Information Office, 46 East Bridge St., Oswego, NY 13126

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December 5, 2008

Officials Give Advice on Staying Warm and Safe During a Winter Power Outage

As the winter season approaches and the temperatures drop, the possibility increases for severe storms and loss of power. Power outages cause a number of safety concerns, especially when those affected seek heat from other sources.

“Having a plan ahead of time and being attuned to the weather can help you anticipate the possibility of severe weather and alert you so you are ready to take action,” said Patricia Egan, Oswego County Emergency Management Director. “There are several things you can do today to prepare for a weather emergency. The time you take now can help everyone stay safe and cope better should a disaster strike.”

Dr. Dennis Norfleet, Public Health Director of the Oswego County Health Department, said it's wise to stock up on the family food supply ahead of time.

“Build up your reserves by buying a few extra items each week until you have a supply large enough to feed your family for three to seven days,” he advises. “If the power goes out, open the refrigerator and freezer as little as possible. Eat the most perishable items first, such as leftovers, meat, poultry and food containing milk, cream, sour cream, or soft cheese.

“For emergency cooking, you can use a fireplace, wood stove, barbeque grill, or camp stove,” said Dr. Norfleet. “Never use a barbeque inside the house. You can also heat food with candle warmers, chafing dishes and fondue pots, but be careful about fire safety.”

Canned food may be eaten right out of the can. Make sure you have a manual can opener available in your emergency supplies. If you heat the can, be sure to open it and remove the label first.

Despite your best efforts, the food in your freezer may thaw before power is restored. Foods that have completely thawed, but are still cold, may be eaten or refrozen under these conditions:

  • Fruits may be eaten or refrozen if they still taste and smell good.

  • Vegetables should not be eaten or refrozen if thawed completely, since bacteria can multiply rapidly in them.

  • Meat and poultry should be thrown away if color or odor is questionable, or if it has been warmer then 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours.

  • Fish and shellfish should not be eaten or refrozen if thawed completely.

  • Remember the general rule: When in doubt, throw it out!

“Portable generators can be an effective energy source during a power outage, but using them safely is key,” said Dr. Norfleet. “Always read the directions that come with the device.”

Most generators are gasoline powered and during operation, produce carbon monoxide, (CO) a colorless, odorless gas. When inhaled, the gas reduces your ability to utilize oxygen. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea and tiredness that can lead to unconsciousness and may be life-threatening.

To avoid carbon monoxide exposure:

  • Never use a generator indoors, including in homes, garages, basements, crawl spaces, and other enclosed or partially enclosed areas, even with ventilation. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent carbon monoxide build-up in the home.

  • Locate the unit outdoors on a dry surface, away from doors, windows, vents, and air conditioning equipment that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

  • Install battery-operated carbon dioxide alarms or plug-in carbon monoxide alarms with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer's installation instructions.

  • Test your carbon monoxide alarms frequently and replace dead batteries.

Remember that you cannot see or smell carbon monoxide and portable generators can produce high levels very quickly.

If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air immediately. If you have a poisoning emergency, call the regional Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222. If the victim has collapsed or is not breathing, call 911 immediately.

The following tips will help you use your generator safely:

  • Make sure your generator produces more power than will be drawn by the things you connect to it.

  • Determine the amount of power you will need. Light bulb wattage indicates the power needed; appliance and equipment labels indicate their power requirements. If you can't determine the amount of power you will need, ask an electrician.

  • Plug appliances directly into the generator, or use a heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Never try to power your house by plugging the generator into a wall outlet.

  • Turn the generator off and let it cool before refueling. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.

  • Store generator fuel in an approved safety can outside of living areas. Local laws may restrict use or storage of fuel. Ask your local fire department for information.

  • If you spill fuel, or do not seal containers properly, invisible vapors can travel along the ground and be ignited by an appliance's pilot light.

  • Use the type of fuel recommended in the generator instructions or on its label.

For more information on preparing for storms and power outages, visit the Oswego County Emergency Management Office Web site at www.oswegocounty.com/emo/planning.html or the New York State Department of Health Web site at www.health.state.ny.us/publications/7064/index.htm.

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