In the Spokane Valley Fire Department service area, we are seeing a dangerous emerging trend — the use of at-home medical oxygen by people who smoke.
Already in 2018, Spokane Valley Fire Department crews have responded to two apartment fires in units where the resident smoked and used at-home medical oxygen. Both of these fires resulted in rapid fire growth and lifesaving rescues by bystanders. One resident sustained severe burns and both residents required hospitalization. The use of portable medical oxygen in the home to treat various lung disorders has grown substantially over the past decade. As the “baby boomer” generation ages, that number will continue to rise. It is vital that patients who use home oxygen – and their friends and family – understand the associated risks.
Medical oxygen adds a higher percentage of oxygen to the air a patient uses to breathe. Normally, the air we breathe every day contains about 21 percent oxygen concentration; the air delivered to patients using this therapy contains nearly 100 percent oxygen. Oxygen saturates clothing, hair, fabric-covered furniture, and linens, making it easier for a fire to start and spread. That is why homes where medical oxygen is used need to follow special fire safety rules:
- Signage: Post “Oxygen In Use: No Smoking / No Open Flames” signs inside and outside the home
- Open Flames: Candles, matches, wood stoves and even sparking toys can be ignition sources and should not be used in the home.
- Storage: Keep oxygen cylinders at least 5 feet from a heat source or electrical device.
- Flammable liquids: Body oil, hand lotions and items containing oil and grease can easily ignite. Keep these items away from where oxygen is in use.
- Aerosol: Never use aerosol sprays containing combustible materials near the oxygen.
- Smoking: A patient on oxygen should not smoke. There is no safe way to smoke in the home when oxygen is in use. Even if a person were to stop the oxygen flow and smoke outside, their hair, clothing and skin will still be oxygen-enriched and at risk of catching fire.
If you or a family member uses portable medical oxygen in the home, it is vital that you take action to remove these fire risks from the home. It will save lives.
For resources on smoking and how to quit, contact the Spokane Regional Health District www.shrd.org. For more information on portable medical oxygen safety, visit the Fire & Life Safety page on our website at www.spokanevalleyfire.com.