State urges caution with home medical oxygen use
Posted: Friday, March 22, 2013 8:00 pm
NASHVILLE — The presence of portable, medical oxygen in Tennessee homes has grown over the past decade, and so has the need for education about the fire hazards associated with its use. Medical oxygen adds a higher percentage of oxygen to the air a patient uses to breathe. Fire needs oxygen to burn. If a fire should start in an oxygen-enriched area, the material burning will burn more quickly.
“When more oxygen is present, any fire that starts will burn hotter and faster than usual,” State Fire Marshal and Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak says. “It is crucial to follow safety precautions when medical oxygen is in use in a home.”
According to the most recent report from the National Fire Protection Association, hospital emergency rooms in the United States received an average of 1,190 thermal burn patients per year caused by ignitions associated with home medical oxygen from 2003 to 2006. Nearly 90 percent of these victims suffered facial burns. Smoking materials were reported to be the heat source in approximately three in four of these cases. In the past five years in Tennessee, there have been 11 fire deaths where oxygen equipment was involved – the most recent occurring this past December in East Ridge.
Oxygen saturates fabric-covered furniture, clothing, hair and bedding, making it easier for a fire to start and spread. Smoking is the leading heat source resulting in medical oxygen-related fires, injuries and deaths. Homes where medical oxygen is used need specific fire safety rules to protect people from fire and burns.
• There is no safe way to smoke in the home when oxygen is in use. Patients on oxygen should not smoke.
• Candles, matches, wood stoves and even sparking toys can be ignition sources and should not be used in the home.
• Keep oxygen cylinders at least five feet from heat sources, open flames or electrical devices.
• Body oil, hand lotion and items containing oil and grease can easily ignite. Keep oil and grease away from where oxygen is in use.
• Never use aerosol sprays — especially those whose cans indicate flammable contents — near the oxygen.
• Post “No Smoking” and “No Open Flames” signs in and outside the home to remind people not to smoke.
• Ensure smoke alarms are working by testing them monthly. Daylight saving time weekends are great times to replace smoke alarm batteries. Also consider using 10-year batteries for smoke alarms.
• Practice a home fire escape plan with two ways out of every room at least twice a year.
Published in The Messenger 3.22.13