Quincy Fatal Fire Fueled by Home Oxygen
State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey, Quincy Fire Chief Joseph Barron and Quincy Police Chief Paul Keenan said the February 12, 2017 fire at 13 Bell Street in Quincy was accidental. Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey’s office identified the victims as Thelma Powers, 67, and her 19-year old grandson William Powers. A third occupant survived jumping from his second floor bedroom window to escape the fire.
The fire started in the first floor living room of the single family home where one of the victims had experienced past fires falling asleep while smoking. The victim also used home medical oxygen and there were several cylinders in the room that failed during the fire. The release of the oxygen fueled the fire that raced up the stairwell trapping the second floor occupants. 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.
State Fire Marshal Ostroskey said, “This is the second fatal fire this year most likely caused by smoking and fueled by home medical oxygen. There simply 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.”
Fire Chief Joseph Barron said, “This was a terrible fire for this family and the extended community. Using medical oxygen at home is a growing practice and it is important to understand the fire safety risks that come with it for patients, their families, and caregivers.”
The fire was jointly investigated by the Quincy Fire and Police Departments, and State Police assigned to both the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Office of Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey. Assistance was received from the Code Compliance Unit of the Department of Fire Services and State Police Crime Scene Services. District Attorney Morrissey confirmed that at this time the deaths do not appear suspicious.
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. Type “home oxygen” in the search box.
State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey said, “This tragic fire is a reminder that we want smokers to live long enough to quit. There is no safe way to smoke around oxygen.”
The marshal 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.
• If you are going to smoke, disconnect the oxygen, wait ten minutes and go outside to smoke. This allows oxygen time to come off your hair and clothes, and lowers the danger of fire.