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Putting pennies between electrical plugs is the latest social media challenge. Maryland’s fire marshal says ‘don’t’

The Maryland State Fire Marshall is warning about the "outlet challenge," a social media challenge that involves creating an electrical reaction to dropping a penny between the prongs of a plug.
The Maryland State Fire Marshall is warning about the "outlet challenge," a social media challenge that involves creating an electrical reaction to dropping a penny between the prongs of a plug. (Courtesy Office of the State Fire Marshal)

A viral social media challenge to slide a penny between two prongs of an electrical plug connected to a wall has led some children to attempt to imitate it. The Maryland State Fire Marshal has some thoughts about that: don’t do it.

The “outlet challenge” has gained traction on TikTok, a video-sharing social media service, and fire officials are worried somebody could be hurt.

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The challenge involves using the plug of a phone charger, partially inserting it into the wall outlet, and then sliding a penny down the wall onto the exposed prongs, according to the fire marshal.

The result is smoke and fire — entertaining at first, but dangerous, senior deputy state fire marshal Oliver Alkire said.

“They are trying to make smoke and fire and create sparks,” Alkire said. “It looks impressive at the time because it looks like a small explosion.”

Though no incidents of the kind have been reported in Maryland, but have been reported in Massachusetts, where students fried two school electrical outlets.

“We are alerting parents to this challenge, and advise them to not only look for signs of fire play like scorched outlets but to have conversations about fire and electrical safety with tweens and teenagers," State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci said in a prepared statement.

The short-term danger is obvious: fire from the act could spread to surrounding kindling, and electrocution is possible. Beyond the immediate threat, though, is the possibility of the line in the wall being damaged.

If damaged, Alkire said, a fire can start in and spread through the wall, either within hours or immediately.

"So sure, they go ahead and do this get their thrills from it … unbeknownst to them, they created a spark in the electrical line,” he said.

Parents should keep an eye out for scorched plugs in their home or tripped breakers, Alkire said.

“They just need to keep an eye out for that and certainly watch what their kids are doing,” he said.

The National Fire Protection Association also weighed in, urging the public not to participate in the outlet challenge.

“Electricity is ubiquitous in our lives, so much so that we often take for granted its power and potential for danger,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA, said in a prepared statement. “This video challenge reinforces that electricity can inflict serious harm if used improperly.”

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