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Storm Cleanup

Fire-related hazards

  • Lightning generates a variety of fire hazards. The electrical charge and intense heat can electrocute on contact, splitting trees and causing fires.
  • Pools of water and even appliances can be electrically charged.
  • Appliances exposed to water can short and become a fire hazard.
  • Generators are often used during power outages. Generators that are not properly used and maintained can be very hazardous.

Chemical safety

  • Look for combustible liquids like gasoline, lighter fluid, and paint thinner that may have spilled.
  • Thoroughly clean the spill and place containers in a well-ventilated area.
  • Keep combustible liquids away from heat sources.

Electrical safety

  • If a home has sustained flood or water damage, and you can safely get to the main breaker or fuse box, turn off the power.
  • Assume all wires on the ground are electrically charged. This includes cable TV feeds.
  • Be aware of and avoid downed utility lines. Report downed or damaged power lines to the utility company.
  • If electrical appliances have been underwater, have them dried out and reconditioned by a qualified service repair person. Do not turn on damaged electrical appliances because the electrical parts can become grounded and pose an electric shock hazard or overheat and cause a fire. Have a licensed electrician check the home for damage.
  • Homeowners should assume that anything touched by floodwater is contaminated. Mud left by floodwater can contain chemicals. Many flooded items, such as wallboard, mattresses, and carpeting will hold mud and contamination forever. Spoiled food, soaked cosmetics and medicine are health hazards.

Take care in flood clean-up

The hazards to those cleaning up after a flood include, but aren't limited to, structural collapse, electrical hazards, and heat stress. The following are a few basic safety precautions for protecting those who work within the flooded areas, primarily first responders.

  • There should be an organized command center in the affected area that can identify potential hazards and ensure workers take proper precautions.
  • Electrical hazards from power lines or other sources should be identified and addressed. Assume that all lines are energized; call the utility company to cut power to the lines or verify that the lines are not live.
  • Try to reduce risks of emotional and physical stress, fatigue, or physical demands from extreme environmental conditions. Heat stress is a common problem. Rest often, stay hydrated, stay cool.
  • As needed, provide and use NIOSH-certified respirators and other personal protective equipment that meets Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.
  • Flood waters may contain pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, gas, and other common household chemicals. Or it may have flowed through the local sewage systems. Such water may have elevated levels of fecal coliform and chemicals. Avoid contact whenever possible; when unavoidable, wear protective gear and clean thoroughly afterward.

This article was adapted from one in the August 2007 newsletter of the Vermont Department of Public Safety Fire Safety Division.

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