Medical oxygen is a necessity for those suffering from respiratory illnesses, but, tragically, medical oxygen has been present in several home fires that resulted in the deaths of Tennesseans in 2018.
State fire data shows medical oxygen was present in 9% of the fatal fires that have occurred so far in 2018 (eight out of 89 total fatalities). In October 2018 alone, medical oxygen was present in one-third of fatal home fires (two out of six fire fatalities). As winter approaches and people spend more time indoors, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal's Office (SFMO) urges consumers using medical oxygen to renew their commitment to taking fire-safety precautions in order to prevent fires and burns from occurring.
"Complying with the safety instructions provided by the home medical oxygen supplies is imperative in protecting yourself, your property, and your loved ones from unintended, dangerous fires," said Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak. "There is no reason for anyone to ever smoke while using medical oxygen, period."
Why is medical oxygen so prevalent in home fire deaths? Fire needs three things to grow: Heat, fuel, and oxygen. Where medical oxygen is present, the surrounding air's oxygen saturation is increased. This allows fires to start easier and burn hotter and faster, making escape more difficult.
The SFMO encourages Tennesseans to remember the following tips to avoid fire hazards associated with the presence of medical oxygen:
• There is no safe way to smoke in a home when medical oxygen is in use. A person utilizing medical oxygen should never smoke.
• Candles, matches, wood stoves, and even sparking toys can be ignition sources and should not be used in a home where medical oxygen is present.
• Keep oxygen cylinders at least five feet from heat sources, open flames, or electrical devices.
• Items containing oil or grease, like hand lotion, can easily ignite. Keep oil and grease away from where medical oxygen is being used.
• Never use aerosol sprays, especially those that indicate flammable contents, near the oxygen.
• Post "No Smoking" and "No Open Flames" signs inside and outside the home to remind people that medical oxygen is present.
• Ensure smoke alarm are working by testing them monthly. Replace the unit if it is more than 10 years old.
• Create a home fire escape plan with two ways out of every room and a designated meeting place outside. Practice the plan with every member of the household.
For more information on keeping you and your family fire safe, visit tn.gov/fire.