Generator safety urged after deaths, fire, illnesses in N.J. – Hunterdon County Democrat

Terry Wright/Hunterdon County Democrat


Terry Wright/Hunterdon County Democrat

Hunterdon County Democrat

on November 03, 2012 at 1:19 PM, updated November 03, 2012 at 1:57 PM

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Gas lines at Flemington Wawa Nov. 1

Emergency officials all over are urging people to be careful in using generators to power their homes left powerless by Hurricane Sandy. That’s because the engines produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can kill.

Carbon monoxide poisoning has claimed at least five lives in New Jersey since Monday, mostly from generator fumes.

And fueling up a generator can be dangerous; a home in Branchburg Township was destroyed Wednesday when the running generator inside his garage caught fire while he was putting gasoline in it, officials said.

Carbon monoxide from generators resulted in ambulance calls three times this week in East Amwell Township alone, one incident nearly killing a man and his wife. Another 15 or 20 minutes and they may have succumbed, said people involved in helping them.

For safety, it’s best to keep generators a good distance from your home, up to 20 feet, industry guidelines state.

Chief Pete Molnar of the Amwell Valley Rescue Squad and other emergency officials said it’s best to place the generator at least 20-25 feet from the home. People are putting them in their garages to prevent them from being stolen, he said; there have been reports this week of generator thefts, including those brought to various equipment locations of the CenturyLink telephone company in Hunterdon.

Amwell Valley Fire Company and the rescue squad “just returned from another home full of CO from a generator running in a garage, “ Fire Chief Marty Alexander said in an email to the Democrat late Friday night.

“This is the third such call in our area in the last three days. Remember a couple died in Holland Township last year from this same scenario.”

He urged people to “get the message out about the dangerous practice.”

According to Molnar, besides the safe location, consider where the wind is blowing from. In Friday night’s incident, “the wind was blowing toward the garage and into the house” and the fumes went inside, setting off the carbon monoxide alarm. None of the three residents were feeling ill, however.

“It’s a silent killer, that’s what it is,” he said.

Amwell Valley Rescue Squad was dispatched to a Rileyville Road (Route 607) home Wednesday around 10 p.m. after the couple, both in their early 60s, were discovered. The house is near the Mountain Church Road intersection, where trees and wires knocked down by the storm blocked the road.

Fumes from a generator inside the attached garage sickened the couple, whose names were withheld by authorities, it was determined. The first-responders had to take a circuitous route to reach the scene because of numerous downed trees and wires in the roads, Molnar said.

The man was quite lethargic and his wife even worse off.

Because of the road problems and worries about getting through to them, both Amwell Valley and Hopewell squads were alerted, along with the Amwell Valley and Hopewell fire companies. Paramedics from Hunterdon Medical Center also responded.

High levels of carbon monoxide was found in the blood of both victims. The squad members administered oxygen and took them by ambulance to the hospital. Normally people suffering from that condition would be taken to a hospital in Trenton for specialized treatment. But because of uncertainty about the road conditions to Trenton, the squads decided they could get to a hospital the fastest by taking Route 202 north to Hunterdon Medical Center, Grzankowski reported.

Two cats, also suffering from carbon monoxide exposure, were taken by Mercer County Animal Control to a veterinary hospital for treatment. Firefighters stayed at the scene several hours using fans to ventilate the house and clear out the bad air, he said.

That was the second call in East Amwell on Wednesday night because of carbon monoxide from a generator. Around 7:30 p.m, the carbon monoxide alarm sounded at a home on Saddle Shop Road, but the occupants were not feeling ill. In that case, the generator was being used too close to the house and fumes seeped in.

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