Recently, the Fire Marshal’s Office has been made aware of two instances where substandard and faulty extension cords have overheated causing the cord to melt. Fortunately, no injury or fire occurred. With the holiday season upon us, more consumers will be using extension cords, power strips, and surge protectors for their holiday decorations and appliances.
Most extension cords, power strips, and surge protectors meet current safety standards; however, poorly manufactured products are a hidden fire and electrocution hazard. You should check your home immediately and make sure you aren’t using one of these recalled cords, power strips, or surge protectors.
Most of these substandard products are sold at discount stores and small retailers for about $1 to $7 dollars. Most are made in China. Many have no identifying marks or model numbers. Some have counterfeit Underwriters Laboratories (UL) certification labels and may use the name of legitimate United States manufacturers to disguise their product.
Extension cords, power strips, and surge protectors must be able to handle the amount of current required by the equipment being powered. These defective or substandard products fail to meet safety standards and can be easily overloaded even if they are used to plug in small appliances or used for illuminating decorations.
In 1997, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) began to investigate and monitor the extension cords, power strips and surge protectors sold in stores across the county. CPSC investigators inspected products sold through discount stores, mass merchandisers, dollar stores and hardware chains. CPSC investigators found that 72 percent of the samples collected failed to meet current safety standards. Many of the recalls announced by the CPSC were a result of their investigations.
The Office of the Fire Marshal is providing these safety tips for consumers:
1. Look for a certification label from an independent testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). For extension cords, look for a permanently attached certification label on the cord near the plug. Beware of counterfeit UL and other certification labels.
2. Legitimate products should be marked with the manufactures name, brand, model number, serial number, etc. Look for inconsistent information and misspelled words on the product label and marking.
3. Use electrical cords, power strips and surge protectors that have polarized plugs with one blade slightly wider the other, or grounded three-pronged plugs. These features reduce the risk of electric shock.
4. Use special, heavy-duty extension cords for high wattage appliances such as air conditioners, portable electric heaters and freezers.
5. Extension cords used outside should be specifically designed for such use to guard against shock.
6. Insert plugs fully so that no part of the prongs are exposed when the cord is in use.
7. Never cover any part of an extension cord with rugs or other objects while it is in use. If the cord is covered, heat cannot escape, which can result in fire.
8. Don't overload cords with too many appliances. Change the cord to a higher-rated one or unplug and relocate appliances to other outlets.
9. Make sure cords do not dangle from the counter or tabletops where they can be pulled down or tripped over.
10. If a cord feels hot to the touch, stop using it and throw it away.
11. Replace cracked or worn cords.
12. Don't use extension cords to compensate for inadequate home wiring. Use extension cords only when necessary and only on a temporary basis.
Anyone with information regarding suspected substandard, faulty, or counterfeit extension cords, power strips, or surge protectors can call the Frederick County Office of the Fire Marshal at 301-600-1479. Consumers can search for any recalled products at www.cpsc.gov/prsrch.html and can report unsafe products at www.cpsc.gov/talk.html.