U.S. Home Oxygen Fires Claim a Life Every Four Days

New study shows that the incidence of home oxygen fire fatalities is underreported, and likely as high as between 100 and 150 fatalities a year.

The incidence of home oxygen patients in the United States dying in fires involving home oxygen equipment is more prevalent than previous reported, with one patient dying every four days, according to a new study produced by BPR Medical Gas Control.

The study, The Prevalence and Impact of Home Oxygen Fires in the U.S., collated information from media reports of home oxygen fires between December 2017 and August 2019. During those 20 months, 311 incidents claimed 164 lives, with the clear majority of those victims being the home oxygen users themselves. Also, 11 third parties, including family members or other residents, were killed, as well as a firefighter who was hit and killed by a piece of an exploding propane tank in October 2018.

Interested providers can download the full report as a PDF and learn more at firebreaks.info/unitedstates.

The totals in the report contrast with previous data from a 2017 report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which estimated that up to 70 people are killed each year from home oxygen fires. That said, the NFPA acknowledged that its numbers were “likely underestimates.”

“We’ve always suspected that the true scale of the risk from home oxygen fires in the U.S. was higher than previously estimated,” said Richard Radford, managing director of BPR Medical. “This data not only confirms the extent of fatalities among home oxygen users themselves, but also the impact on other people, including neighbors, family members, and the emergency services.”

Radford appears in Episode 015 of the HME Business Podcast, in which goes into more detail about the study and what providers can do to help increase their oxygen patients’ oxygen-related fire safety.

The report also found:

  • The media reports covered in the study also reported 71 serious injuries, 63 of which were suffered by oxygen users. These included burns, smoke inhalation injuries, or both.
  • Emergency Rooms recorded approximately 1,200 injuries each year from home oxygen fires, which suggests that the media doesn’t report most incidents.
  • Seventy-two percent of the oxygen fires in the study were either caused, or were probably caused by patients smoking while using oxygen therapy.
  • In 124 home oxygen fires (40 percent), a dwelling was completely destroyed. Moreover, home oxygen fires can displace multiple people who are often elderly. The study found instances in which a single fire displaced as many as 110 people.

Additional details can be read in the full study.

In contrast to the United State, the United Kingdom, which implemented national measures to address home oxygen fires in 2006, only recorded on home oxygen fire death between 2013 and 2017. This puts the risk of home oxygen fire death in the United States at 20 times higher than that of the United Kingdom.

“On the basis of current evidence, the U.K. represents best practice in the delivery of home oxygen,” Radford said. “There is strong regulation, a culture of stakeholders working together to reduce risk, and the fitting of thermal fuses to oxygen tubing — which cut the flow of oxygen in the event of a fire in the tube — is mandatory. Together, these measures significantly reduce the impact of home oxygen fires.”

About the Author

David Kopf is the Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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