Firefighter, Engine Co. Member since 2012
Liam Dreusike
Firefighter, Engine Co.

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Letter from the Chief-Oil Burner Emergencies-Puff Backs

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In the winter months, we get our first really cold nights, and many of our heating systems will kick on for the first time. Usually, this turns out to be an automatic, non-event and we wake up to a warm, cozy home. However, with oil-fired heating systems, sometimes things can go wrong. A puff back is an explosion of un-burned oil in the combustion chamber of an oil-fired boiler, furnace, or water heater. Depending on the quantity of oil that is ignited, the puff back can damage the boiler itself, may cause the flue vent connector (stack pipe) to become disconnected, and may blow soot throughout your house.

The cause of this puff back explosion is the ignition of un-burned oil lying on or in the bottom of the heating appliance combustion chamber. The strength of a puff back explosion and the extent of its effect on the building can vary widely depending on the quantity of oil that is ignited. The most common cause of this un-burned heating oil fuel is improper oil burner operation that leaves incompletely-burned heating oil at the end of one or more on/off cycles of the oil burner. This could result from leaks in the piping, often visible as drips or leaks that occur when the burner is not running. You might notice oil drips on the floor near the burner. You might also notice excessive soot building up on or near the burner or on the metal ductwork leading from the burner to the chimney. Either way, you should have a trained technician service your heating system as soon as you spot a drip or soot. If not, a puff back may not be far behind. The best way to avoid a puff back is to have your system serviced every year; and the best time to schedule this service is at the end of the heating season.

What to do if you do get a puff back?

. Call us immediately at (631) 427-7250. The Halesite Fire Department will respond to this emergency, and determine if it is just a puff back or something more serious.
. You should also shut off power to your heating system. Most homes have a red on/off switch at the entrance to the basement.
. Your carbon monoxide detector may sound an alert after a puff back. If it does, evacuate the entire house. Even without an alert from your CO detector, a puff back can produce dangerous levels of CO so it's best if you do not spend much time near your oil burner. Open windows on the main floor until we arrive.
. Once we have come and determined that the home is safe to re-enter, call your heating system service company. They will need to clean the system and repair the cause of the soot or oil leakage. Do not turn your oil burner back on without contacting a professional to assess your system first.

Stay Safe!
Dan McConnell
Chief of Department




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