Second deadliest year on record for oxygen-related fires in Tennessee


New data from the Tennessee fire marshal's office shows a near record number of fires last year related to medical oxygen. Fire needs three ingredients to thrive: heat, fuel, and oxygen. Fire officials say when a large amount of oxygen is in a home, like one with medical oxygen tanks in use, it can be a high-risk environment. "The fire can burn a lot hotter and quicker just because of that enriched environment," Bristol, Tennessee Assistant Fire Chief Jack Spurgeon said. Data from the state fire marshal's office marked 2016 as the second deadliest year ever with eight fatalities related to medical oxygen in the home. Two years before, there were nine fatalities involving medical oxygen. Spurgeon said, "If you want to kind of look at the situation like the cartoon of Pig Pen, he's got the dirt flying around him and stuff, that's kind of how the oxygen is. It's all around you and it creates an unsafe environment with open flame." According to the National Fire Protection Association, cigarettes are the leading heat source related to medical-oxygen related fires, injuries, and deaths. Spurgeon told us oxygen tanks will expand as it heats and can create an explosion situation. That is compared to a tank flattening when it is empty. The Bristol, Tennessee Fire Department is trying to prevent these types of accidents. Firefighters work to put up 'no smoking' signs for residents who use oxygen in housing authority facilities. "I've got a small tank I carry with me, a big tank I use at night, and an emergency tank I use in case the power goes off," Mike Shaffer said. Mike Shaffer has been using oxygen for just about six months. He said he takes precautions because he knows the damages that tanks can cause. "They are like a missile when they get broke." Fire officials warn to keep oxygen from open flames, not just cigarettes, but candles, and hot stoves. They tell News 5 a safe distance is five feet.