Oxygen Use and The Risk of Fire in the Home
Oxygen is a life saver, but it can also be a great hazard when it is handled incorrectly. The three elements of fire are oxygen, fuel and heat, so when an oxygen tank is present, the risk of fire is greatly heightened. Even non-flammable objects will burn faster and hotter when an oxygen tank is present, simply because oxygen is the catalyst for fire. It’s important for oxygen users and family members to understand these risks and know what to do in case of an accident.
Risks Associated with Oxygen
The highest risk for oxygen users is tobacco use. Professionals warn that even an e-cigarette can cause an accident in the home. Any open flame is a hazard, so any pilot lights or gas stoves in the home are dangerous for the oxygen user. Candles and matches can cause a fire as easily as a cigarette; as can minor damages to electrical devices.
Families Can Help
Families can help by ensuring the oxygen is in a home with no open flame. Candles must be removed, as do all matches and lighters. If possible, any gas lit appliances, such as stoves or furnaces, should be switched for electronic versions. If this is not possible, a family member should check the pilot lights to make sure the units are still functioning. The patient on oxygen should not attempt to check or light a pilot for any reason. Families can also read the instructions for use and care of an oxygen tank. While the patient will have read the information, it’s helpful for the family to know how to recognize faulty equipment. Understanding how the unit is supposed to work will help if the unit becomes faulty and needs to be repaired or replaced.
Additionally, families should make sure there are working smoke detectors in the home. The smoke detector must be checked every month, and the batteries must be changed every six months. Some detectors can be connected to a home security system, which alerts the local fire department of a fire. Others only make a loud noise, which will alert the patient and neighbors of an emergency.
Finally, contact the local fire department. Let them know that an oxygen tank is in use in the home. Some fire companies will keep track of oxygen tanks internally; others will provide a sticker for the front door. In the event of an emergency, emergency personnel must know that an explosive device is in the building. Oxygen tanks can, and will, explode in a fire.
What Professionals Will Do
If the patient smokes, professionals will enroll the patient in smoking cessation classes. This is the first step in helping eliminate sources of open flame. The professional will also check equipment to make sure it is working correctly. Patient and family education will be completed, with the professional asking questions of the patient to ensure the information is understood completely. If possible, the professional should arrange for a fire safety inspector to check the home for safety and discuss exit strategies with the patient in the case of an accident.
It is the responsibility of the patient to understand what to do in the instance of an accident. The patient must understand how to turn off the tank and leave the house as fast as possible. If possible, the patient should own a fire extinguisher, or one should be in the home, in case someone else is available to use it. The patient must be able to recognize equipment failure and know who to call to get the equipment repaired quickly. The patient is also responsible to quit smoking and learn to prevent any other open flame when the oxygen tank is in use.
The Vancouver Home Health Care Agency is happy to help prepare a home and a family for oxygen tanks.
At Vancouver Home Health Care Agency, Caring and Compassion is our business.