Fire officials advise oxygen tank safety

PARKERSBURG – Many area residents might be unaware how many fires are contributed to faulty oxygen equipment, officials said.

During 2002 and 2005, oxygen equipment in the United States was involved in an estimated 209 house fires, according to local fire departments. Those fires contributed to an average of 46 civilian deaths and 62 civilian injuries a year. One of every five such fires resulted in death, according to statistics from the National Fire Protection Administration.

The Parkersburg Fire Department wanted to remind people oxygen can be dangerous near any open flame whether it be cigarettes, pilot lights on appliances or contained outdoor fires.

“Unfortunately, we have experienced several fires involving serious and sometimes fatal outcomes due to people using oxygen smoking,” said Capt. Tim Flinn, chief inspector with the Parkersburg Fire Department.

Flinn said several factors may contribute to the outcome of burned patients including infections, hypothermia and the damage to airways from the high temperature exposed to the mouth and nose.

“It may be a couple of days until the long-term effects can be very serious,” Flinn said. “

People should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you would happen to be burned while using oxygen, he added.

Safety tips offered by the NFPA:

* Oxygen is not a flammable gas and will not explode. However, oxygen can cause fires to burn things faster and ignite easier.

* Never use or store oxygen in a confined space such as a cabinet or closet.

* Do not use petroleum-based ointments or lotions in or around your nose. Oxygen can react violently with these oily substances and can cause burns.

* Keep all oxygen equipment at least 15-feet from any type of open flame. Take care to avoid flames while using oxygen, including matches, fireplaces, barbecues, stoves, space heaters and candles.

* Have working smoke detectors installed throughout the home.

* Prepare a home escape plan.

Do not store oxygen systems in unventilated areas such as closets or cabinets. Never drape clothing over oxygen systems and do not store oxygen systems in the trunk of a car, officials said.

For more information visit www.usfa.fema.gov.