Massachusetts Starts Home Oxygen Fire Safety Campaign

The state fire marshal and a task force announced the campaign Jan. 21 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where they said 24 fire deaths and seven firefighter injuries have occurred in such fires since 1997.

Massachusetts State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan, Dr. Colleen Ryan of Massachusetts General Hospital, and the state Task Force on Home Oxygen Safety on Jan. 21 announced the start of a campaign using TV and radio ads, a printed brochure, and other media to inform the public about fire dangers associated with home oxygen systems. Helping patients stop smoking is a central part of the campaign because smoking by patients is a frequent cause of these fires.

Educational guidelines for firefighters, injury prevention professionals, and first responders also are included in the campaign.

Speaking at the hospital's Boston location, they said 69 such fires since 1997 have caused 24 deaths in Massachusetts, more than 50 serious injuries, and seven firefighter injuries. Five severe fires took place during 2009.

Home systems provide a higher concentration of oxygen (40 to 100 percent) than the air we naturally breathe (20 percent), and materials in an oxygen-enriched environment ignite more easily and burn more intensely than they normally would, according to the agencies, which point out some materials that do not normally burn will burn in an enriched oxygen atmosphere. "Nomex, the material used in firefighter protective gear, can burn vigorously when exposed to high oxygen levels," according to the Division of Fire Safety. Formerly named The Office of the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal, it is a division of the Department of Fire Services.

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