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State Warns of Medical Oxygen Dangers

The Tennessee Fire Marshal recommends users of medical oxygen place signage in and outside of their homes to prevent accidental exposure to flame or heat. (Jason Eppink/flickr.com)
The Tennessee Fire Marshal recommends users of medical oxygen place signage in and outside of their homes to prevent accidental exposure to flame or heat. (Jason Eppink/flickr.com)
February 24, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For thousands of Tennesseans with medical issues like COPD or cancer, using a medical oxygen tank is necessary for survival. But according to the State Fire Marshal, a lack of safety precautions when using supplemental air resulted in six fire-related deaths in 2016 and more than 30 in the last five years.

State spokesman Kevin Walters with the Fire Marshal’s office said just having a tank inside your home can increase the risk of fire.

"The oxygen feeds a fire,” Walters said. "Oxygen saturates fabric-covered furniture, clothing, hair and bedding and it makes it easier for a fire to start and to spread. And that's why we are warning people to take extra care whenever using medical oxygen at home. "

Experts recommend patients keep their oxygen cylinders at least five feet away from heat sources, open flames or electrical devices. Posting "no smoking" or "no open flame" signs in and outside the home can also help prevent accidents.

Walters said it's also important for oxygen users to avoid smoking - and not just for health reasons.

"You're only going to make things more complicated and potentially catastrophically bad for you and your family if you smoke on medical oxygen,” he warned.

He added that even body oil, hand lotion and items containing oil and grease can easily ignite near a tank. And he said never use aerosol sprays - especially those whose cans indicate flammable contents - near the oxygen.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN