For Immediate Release - February 05, 2017

Smoking Cause of Haverhill Fatal Fire

Home Medical Oxygen Fueled Fire

State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey and Haverhill Fire Chief William LaLiberty said yesterday’s fatal fire at 10 Ford Street started by the improper use of smoking materials. It is quite likely the victim fell asleep smoking; he is believed to be the 68-year old resident of the first floor of the two-family home. The second floor residents were able to escape with minor injuries.

The fire was fueled by the use of home medical oxygen. When oxygen is used in the home, the amount of oxygen in air, furniture, bedding, clothing and hair goes up, making it easier for a fire to start and spread. When more oxygen is in the air, fires burn hotter and faster.

There is no safe way to smoke around home oxygen. Turning off the oxygen is not enough because your clothes, hair, bedding and the tubing are oxygen-enriched. Until you can quit smoking, disconnect the oxygen, wait ten minutes and go outside to smoke. This is not a safe way to smoke, but it allows oxygen time to come off your hair and clothes, and lowers the danger of fire.

The fire was jointly investigated by the Haverhill Fire and Police Departments, and State Police assigned to both the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Office of Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett. Assistance was received from the Code Compliance Unit of the Department of Fire Services and State Police Crime Scene Services. ‘

The Department of Fire Services has an educational campaign for patients and families, physicians and care givers, and firefighters and housing authorities:  “Breathe Easy: Using Home Oxygen Safely”. Materials in English, Spanish and Portuguese are available on the DFS website www.mass.gov/dfs and can be downloaded or ordered for free from the Department of Public Health’s Health Promotion Clearinghouse.

State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey said, “This tragic fire is a reminder that we want smokers to live long enough to quit.” He offered these fire safety tips for using oxygen in the home:

  • Keep oxygen and tubing 10 feet away from heat sources such as candles, matches, lighters, heaters, woodstoves, electric razors, hair dryers, cooking stoves, and smoking materials.
  • Do not use petroleum-based products such as oil-based lip balms or lotions. They catch fire easily.