When it comes to electrical safety, prevention is key. Having professional electrical work performed by reliable contractors is the best way to ensure that you won't have to deal with the dangers of an electrical fire.
However, the National Fire Protection Association estimates that 50,000 electrical fires break out every year in the United States. Knowing what to do – and what not to do – when confronted with one can be of life-or-death importance.
Be Aware of What Leads to Electrical Fires
Firstly, being aware of the conditions that can create electrical fires is very important. If you notice of the following, unplug it and call an electrician as soon as possible:
- Repeatedly tripping circuit breakers
- Tingling sensation or shock when touching an electrical appliance
- Flickering light bulbs
- Discolored electrical outlets or power strips
- Burning smells from any electrical appliance or device
Once Fire Breaks Out
Although your first reaction may be to douse a fire with water, electrical fires are different. Never try to douse an electrical fire with water. Water conducts electricity, which can make the fire spread and fatally electrocute you as well.
If a fire is small, you can douse it with baking soda. Sodium bicarbonate is a powerful fire extinguishing chemical ideal for use with electrical fires because of it presents no risk of shock. Be aware, however, of the fact that electrical fires can spread extremely quickly – as fast as electricity travels, a fraction of the speed of light.
If you have a Class C fire extinguisher handy, that's the best option for the job of containing the fire. It actually uses sodium bicarbonate in a concentrated form, designed specifically for snuffing electrical fires safely.
Once the immediate fire threat is contained, you need to shut off power to through the electrical panel. Be very careful not to touch any metal enclosures or wires on the way – only the circuit breaker itself is safe to touch.
After Shutting Off Power
Call 911 as soon as the immediate threat is contained and evacuate the building. You won't be able to turn the power back on until a disaster recovery electrician rewires the structure. Attempting to do so prematurely could lead to a second fire – so follow the advice of the disaster team that arrives on-scene.
Treating Electrical Shock
Electrical shocks always require emergency medical attention – even if the victim seems okay afterwards. If you can't immediately shut down power, you may need to separate the victim from the power source using a non-conductive object. Don't touch them unless you're absolutely sure there is no risk of shock to you.
CPR may be necessary if the victim is unconscious. Also, electrical shocks typically produce other injuries, such as burns and fractures. Once you've removed the person from the electrical danger, call 911 and follow the dispatcher's instructions.