Oxygen is one of the three elements of the fire triangle (oxygen, heat, and fuel). We all need oxygen to breathe; some medical conditions may require supplemental, in-home medical oxygen. These medical conditions can range from respiratory conditions like COPD to certain heart conditions. And while oxygen can be a saving factor in these cases, it can also increase the risk and severity of home fires, home fire injuries, and even death when mixed with an ignition source, like cigarettes. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), “smoking materials are the leading heat source resulting in medical oxygen related fires, injuries and deaths”.
Oxygen occurs naturally in the atmosphere; it compromises approximately 21% of the air we breathe. However, when medical oxygen is used in the home, 100% oxygen is compressed into a gas cylinder. The oxygen then flows through medical tubing to the person’s nose and/or mouth via a mask or nasal cannula. The surrounding air and materials, like clothing, hair, furniture, blankets, pillows, etc. become saturated with oxygen and are easier to catch fire.
While medical oxygen is safe, it is not safe to smoke when medical oxygen is being used in the home as the cigarette provides an ignition source for fire. In addition, open flames from candles, matches, wood/gas stoves and BBQs, and even sparking toys, can be an ignition source and should not be used in the home.
If you have medical oxygen in your home consider posting “no smoking” signs in and outside your home. If you still smoke, discuss this with your medical provider; consider enrolling in a smoking cessation program. You may also want to investigate attaching a thermal fuse/firebreak in-line with your oxygen supply.
Thermal fuses/firebreaks have been required for patient safety in V.A. contracts since 2018. A thermal fuse can reduce the spread of fire thus saving lives and property. It can also decrease the severity of burns to a person’s face, neck, or internal airways, and decrease the potential for additional burns to the person and family members, and/or damage to the surrounding and neighboring buildings. Thermal fuse/firebreak devices help reduce this risk by isolating the oxygen flow and extinguishing a fire tracking back along with the oxygen delivery tubing. These devices are installed directly in the oxygen delivery circuit after the nasal cannula tubing and at the interface with the oxygen supply/delivery equipment. (To learn more about this type of device talk to your PCP, oxygen supply provider, or DME supplier.)
Also, please remember to have working smoke alarms in every bedroom, adjacent to each sleeping area, and on every level of your home.