Medical oxygen (O2) is a necessity for those suffering from respiratory illnesses, but, tragically, medical O2 has been present in several home fires that resulted in the deaths of Tennesseans in 2018.

State fire data shows medical O2 was present in 9% of the fatal fires that have occurred so far in 2018 (8 out of 89 total fatalities). In October 2018 alone, medical O2 was present in one-third of fatal home fires (two out of six fire fatalities). As winter approaches and people spend more time indoors, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) urges consumers using medical O2 to renew their commitment to taking fire-safety precautions in order to prevent fires and burns from occurring.

“Complying with the safety instructions provided by the home medical O2 supplies is imperative in protecting yourself, your property, and your loved ones from unintended, dangerous fires,” said Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak. “There is no reason for anyone to ever smoke while using medical O2, period.”


Why is medical O2 so prevalent in home fire deaths? Fire needs three things to grow: Heat, fuel, and O2. Where medical O2 is present, the surrounding air’s O2 saturation is increased. This allows fires to start easier and burn hotter and faster, making escape more difficult.

The SFMO encourages Tennesseans to remember the following tips to avoid fire hazards associated with the presence of medical oxygen:

  • There is no safe way to smoke in a home when medical O2 is in use. A person utilising medical O2 should never smoke.
  • Candles, matches, wood stoves, and even sparking toys can be ignition sources and should not be used in a home where medical O2 is present.
  • Keep O2 cylinders at least five feet from heat sources, open flames, or electrical devices.
  • Items containing oil or grease, like hand lotion, can easily ignite. Keep oil and grease away from where medical O2 is being used.
  • Never use aerosol sprays, especially those that indicate flammable contents, near the O2.
  • Post “No Smoking” and “No Open Flames” signs inside and outside the home to remind people that medical O2 is present.
  • Ensure smoke alarms are working by testing them monthly. Replace the unit if it is more than 10 years old.
  • Create a home fire escape plan with two ways out of every room and a designated meeting place outside. Practice the plan with every member of the household.