The presence of portable, medical oxygen in the home has grown over the past decade — and so has the need for education about the fire hazards associated with its use, according to Tennessee’s insurance commissioner.
Medical oxygen adds a higher percentage of oxygen to the air a patient uses to breathe. And fire needs oxygen to burn and if a fire should start in an oxygen-enriched area, the material burning will burn more quickly, explained Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak.
“When more oxygen is present, any fire that starts will burn hotter and faster than usual,” Commissioner McPeak cautioned. “It is crucial to follow safety precautions when medical oxygen is in use in a home.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), from 2003 to 2006, hospital emergency rooms in the United States received an average of 1,190 thermal burns per year caused by ignitions associated with home medical oxygen. In the past five years in Tennessee, there have been eight fire deaths where oxygen equipment was involved — the most recent occurring January in Dickson County.
Oxygen saturates fabric-covered furniture, clothing, hair and bedding, making it easier for a fire to start and spread, according to the regulator. 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.
Commissioner McPeak offers the following safety tips:
• 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 containing combustible materials 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 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.