Massachusetts aims to curb O2 related fires

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Monday, March 31, 2003

SANDWICH, Mass. - A rising tide of injuries and deaths from fires caused by smoking near oxygen therapy systems has spawned a 20-person state task force to spread awareness and create new regulations.

“We know it’s going to be an increasing problem,” said Robert Fessier, facilities account manager for Cape Medical Supply, Inc. in Sandwich, Mass and a member of the task force. “More and more people are being put on oxygen and a majority of them are smokers.”

Since 1997 in Massachusetts, 11 people have died in fires ignited by people smoking while using home oxygen systems.

Seventeen others suffered severe burns or smoke inhalation.

In August of 2002 alone, three incidents occurred in a matter of two weeks: a 56-year-old man suffered second and third degree burns; an 81-year-old woman died in bed; and a 77-year-old woman died in a house fire.

Home oxygen systems saturate clothing, fabric, hair, and anything within the system’s environment with oxygen, making those who smoke at high risk to catch fire. Once the fire starts, oxygen increases the speed at which things burn once a fire starts.

The task force, comprised of DME officials, hospital agencies, members of the Public Housing Department, home healthcare specialists and the state fire marshal, has split into two subcommittees - one to market education; the other to focus on changing existing fire codes and proposing new regulations for oxygen systems. HME

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