Each year East Side Fire Department responds to a significant number of
fires and medical emergencies caused by electrical
malfunction. Every year in the United States, more than 1,000 people are
killed and thousands more injured in electrical fire or
shock incidents. It is important to know how to use electrical
appliances safely and how to recognize electrical hazards.
The Nature of Electricity
Most homes have two incoming voltages: 120 volts for lighting and
appliance circuits and 240 volts for larger air conditioning
and electric dryer circuits.
When an appliance switch is turned on, electrical current flows through
the wire, completing the electrical "circuit" and causing
the appliance to operate. The amount of flowing current is called
"amperage." Most lighting circuits in the home are 15 amp
circuits. Most electric dryers and air conditioners require larger 30 amp circuits.
The amount of electrical power needed to make an appliance operate is
called "wattage" and is a function of the amount of
current flowing through the wire (amperage), and the pressure in the system (voltage).
Mathematically speaking, volts x amps = watts. So, if we have a 120 volt
system and a 15 amp current, we can flow a
maximum of 120 x 15 or 1,800 watts on a typical lighting or appliance
circuit. When too many lights or appliances are attached
to the electrical system, it will overload and overheat. This can cause
the wire insulation to melt and ignite, resulting in an
electrical fire. Resistance affects the amount of electrical current
flowing through wire. This is known as "ohms."
Resistance causes increased heat in the wire. Heat is the byproduct that
makes some appliances work, such as an iron, toaster,
stove or furnace. Large current faces high resistance when moving
through a small wire. This generates lots of heat. That's how
an incandescent light bulb works. Resistance through the light filament
causes it to heat up which gives off a bright light.
The length of a wire also affects electrical resistance. Operating an
electrical hedge clipper with a long extension cord
increases resistance and might cause the cord to overheat, melt or
ignite. The same occurs if too many strands of Christmas
lights are connected together.
The size of electrical wire is dependent upon the amount of current
required to operate a particular appliance. Wiring to the air
conditioner, electric stove and electric dryer is much larger to handle
the increased voltage (240) volts) and amperage (30
amps). Wiring is covered with a protective material called "insulation."
Electrical circuits in homes are designed so that all components are
compatible. The size of the wire, outlets and circuit breakers
are designed for an anticipated electrical load. A circuit is said to be
overloaded when too much current flows causing heat
build up or wiring to break down. When two bare wires touch, a "short
circuit" is said to occur. This can lead to sparks and
fire. Deteriorated insulation is one of the most frequent causes of short circuits.
A "circuit breaker" or "fuse" is a safety device designed to prevent
accidental overloading of electrical circuits. They are set at a
specific amperage. When that amperage is exceeded, it trips and shuts
off the flow of electricity, stopping the circuit from
continued overheating. When a fuse or circuit breaker trips, it is
important to find the cause and correct it. Often, people will
just reset the breaker or put in larger fuse. NEVER USE OVERSIZED FUSES
ON CIRCUIT BREAKERS. NEVER
SUBSTITUTE A PENNY OR FOIL-WRAPPED FUSE. This could cause a fire!
General Electrical Safety
When a house is under construction, city inspectors visit to make sure
the electrical system is in compliance with the City
Building Code and the National Electrical Code. Only licensed
electricians are permitted to install electrical systems. During
home remodeling, when electrical circuits are added or changed, make
sure to use a licensed electrician whose work complies
with the electrical code. Add enough outlets in every room to avoid
using multiple plugs or extension cords. Use a ground fault
interrupter (G.F.I.) on circuits in the bathroom, or outdoors where
water or moisture is present. G.F.I. is a type of very
sensitive circuit breaker and is recommended by East Side Fire Department.
When choosing an electrical appliance, be sure it is approved by a
safety-testing laboratory. This insures that it has been
constructed in accordance with nationally-accepted electrical standards
and has been evaluated for safety. Use the appliance
only according to manufacturer's specific instructions.
If you touch an electrical appliance, wall switch or electrical cord
while you are wet or standing in water, it will increase the
chance of electrical shock.
When using an extension cord, be sure it is designed to carry the
intended load. Most cannot carry as much current as
permanent wiring and tend to overheat. Do not use an extension cord in
place of permanent wiring, especially if a tripping
hazard exists or where there is high physical abuse, such as under a
carpet. Keep electrical cords away from infants and
toddlers and use tamperproof inserts on wall outlets to prevent them
from sticking objects into the outlets. The cord must be
protected from damage. Do not run it around objects or hang on a nail.
Inspect it periodically for worn insulation and overall condition.
Safety with Electrical Appliances
The potential for electrical shock or fire from an electrical appliance
is very real, especially when safety recommendations are not followed.
Before buying an appliance, look for the label of a recognized testing
laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratory or Factory Mutual.
Keep space heaters, stoves, irons and other heat-producing appliances
away from furniture, curtains, bedding or towels. Also,
give televisions, stereos and computers plenty of air-space so they won't overheat.
Never use an appliance with a damaged cord, and be sure to use
three-pronged electrical devices in three-pronged outlets.
These outlets may not be available in older homes, so use a
three-pronged adapter, and screw the tab onto the grounded outlet
box cover. Never cut off or bend the grounding pin of the plug. If you
have a polarized plug (with one side wider than the
other), never file it down or try to make it reversible.
Keep electrical cords out of the path of traffic. If you put cords under
carpets or rugs, wires can be damaged and might result in fire.
An electrical cord should never be wrapped around an appliance until the
appliance has cooled. Because hair care equipment is
often used in bathrooms near sinks and bathtubs, it is extremely
important to be especially careful that the appliances do not
come in contact with water. If one drops into water, do not touch it
until you have pulled the wall plug or turned off the breaker to that
specific electrical outlet.
Protect young children by putting plastic inserts in receptacle outlets
not in use to keep them from putting anything into outlets.
Never put a kitchen knife or other metal object in a toaster to remove
stuck bread, bagels, etc. unless it is unplugged and cooled.
Install television and radio antennas where they cannot fall across
power lines. Use caution when operating a tree pruning
device or using a metal ladder around power lines.
Inspect appliances regularly to make sure they operate properly. If an
appliance smells funny when in use, makes unusual
sounds or the cord feels warm to touch, repair or replace the unit.
Don't repair it yourself unless you are qualified. Keep
appliances in a cool, dry place to prevent rusting.
When an electrical emergency occurs, there are several survival actions
that can be taken. You should know how to trip the
main circuit breaker at the electrical panel to turn off all power to the house.
If an appliance smells funny or operates improperly, pull the plug if it
can be done safely. If arcing, burning or smoking from an
appliance occurs, turn off the power at the circuit breaker and CALL THE
FIRE DEPARTMENT using 9-1-1.
Winds accompanying thunderstorms may knock down power lines or utility
poles. Keep people away from the area, and call
the fire department using 9-1-1. If power lines come in contact with a
vehicle, do not touch it or the vehicle. If people are inside, tell them to
stay inside. If they try to exit, they may complete a grounded
electrical circuit and be instantly killed. They must stay inside until
the power is shut by the utility company.
If a serious electrical malfunction occurs in your home, school or
workplace, it is the same as a fire. Notify others, activate the
fire alarm and exit promptly. If you are familiar with the operation of
a fire extinguisher, you can use only a "Class C" Fire Extinguisher on
an electrical fire.
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