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Don’t have a shocking experience at home, office

By Richard S. Campos, Fire Inspector/Life Safety Educator | JBSA Fire Emergency Services | May 14, 2020


The concept that the electrical system in your home or office will operate without failure is what the mainstream of people take for granted. This is a true statement, thanks to our electrical power gird.

But what if you enter a room flip the light switch and immediately smell something burning? What are your actions at this point and time? 

When using electrical appliances extension cords, light bulbs and other equipment, safety tips should be encompassed in household rules and daily behavior expectations for members of the family.

Simple prevention measures can be effective solutions, because it only takes one mistake to trigger an electrical fire.


Appliances are an essential part of every household from a simple electric clock to the microwave oven. Follow these safety tips to keep appliances operating safely:

  • Any appliance you purchase should be approved by Underwriters Laboratories, or UL, or another reputable consumer laboratory.
  • Unplug unused appliances and stow cords safely out of reach of pets, young children or hazardous situations.
  • Appliances that generate heat, such as clocks, televisions and computer monitors should be monitored for excessive heat. Do not drape clothes, toys or other items over warm appliances.
  • Always follow appliance instructions carefully. Do not attempt amateur repairs or upgrades.
  • Keep all electrical appliances away from water such as sinks, bathtubs, pools or overhead vents that may drip.
  • Do not operate any electrical appliance with wet hands or while standing in water.
  • Keep clothes, curtains, toys and other potentially combustible materials away from radiators, space heaters, heating vents and other heat sources.

Extension cords

To increase the range of electrical outlets many homes use extension cords for their electrical appliances. To help keep cords in good condition for safe operation follow these safety tips:

  • Before each use check cords for frays, cracks or kinks, including power tool cords, holiday lights and extension cords.
  • Cords should never be used for anything other than their intended purpose.
  • Cords should be firmly plugged into outlets. If the cord is loose and can pull out easily, choose a different, tighter outlet.
  • Do not staple or nail cords in position at any time.
  • Cords should not be placed beneath rugs where they can become a trip hazard or where frays will not be noticeable. Additionally, covering a cord will prevent it from keeping as cool as possible.
  • Do not make modifications to a cord's plug at any time – do not clip off the third prong or attempt to file down a wider prong to fit in a different outlet.
  • Extension cords are a temporary solution only and their use should be minimized whenever possible.
  • Use the proper weight and length of the extension cord for the appropriate task. Be sure the cord is rated for indoor or outdoor use, whichever is required.
  • When unplugging a cord, pull on the cord at the outlet rather than tug on the cord itself.

Electrical safety tips

When an electrical short or spark does happen, it is vital to understand what to do to prevent or put out an electrical fire to keep the damage to a minimum and devastation from spreading.

You should, of course, call 911 or other appropriate emergency services immediately in case of electrical injury or fire. The United States Fire Administration of the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers a number of tips for preventing electrical fires.

  • Do not allow children to play in proximity to small or large electric appliances.
  • Exchange any tools that put off even mild electric shocks.
  • Exchange any light switches that have a tendency to flicker.
  • Exchange any light switches that are hot to the touch.
  • Do not overload extension cords, sockets and plugs. Do not daisy chain!
  • Do not ever force a three-prong plug into a two-receptacle socket.
  • Recognize where fuse boxes and circuit breakers are located as well as how to properly operate them.
  • Have a professional certified electrician make electrical repairs.

For more information about fire, burn and scalding prevention, visit the National Fire Prevention Association website at www.nfpa.org/education, the USFA website at www.usfa.gov/prevention/ or the FEMA website at www.fema.gov or contact our fire prevention offices at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston at 210-221-2727, JBSA-Lackland at 210-671-2921, or JBSA-Randolph at 210-652-6915.