Lesson In Awareness:Illinois Politicians Call For O2 Declaration

Immediately after the death of Homewood Illinois firefighter Brian Carey, some people began to question and call for signs to be placed on or near the homes of residents who rely on medical oxygen [1]. An Illinois state senator has taken up the cause and proposed new legislation.

The effort by Senator Ed Maloney (D- Chicago) is well-intentioned based on giving us the most useful information as possible prior to arrival at the fire scene. Maloney’s bill will amend an existing law requiring home medical supply companies to give information about O2 customers to local fire and police departments. State Representative Will Davis, (D-Homewood) goes further with his fall plans by requiring the same companies to place a sign in the yard of O2 customers[2].

As quick as the legislation was proposed others countered saying that Davis’ intent is a knee-jerk reaction to the NIOSH firefighter fatality report referencing the statements about oxygen saturation[3]. Tim Sashko, president of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association reported that there was a similar effort started in the past but it was dropped after being argued that the signs would alert criminals that the occupants are elderly. In 2009 a bill was passed that gave dispatchers access to information about various degrees of occupant special needs such as blindness, deafness and others. Maloney’s bill would allow dispatchers to have O2 user information included in their database and reported to responding companies. In the fatal Homewood fire, O2 information was relayed to incoming units as part of the initial 911 call[4, 5].

Despite not knowing whether or not oxygen saturation played a critical part in the fire load and fuel behavior, the messages here are prompting you to review you sizeup skills. If your dispatchers don’t have access to such information you can always rely on the fire service’s best means of intelligence gathering – medic locals. Start taking note today of what addresses you respond to that have oxygen tanks. Mark your mapbook of those addresses that have handicapped persons, door and window bars, Collyer Mansion conditions, anything that will make your job more difficult. Let your EMS crew know to be on the lookout for the strange and unusual that would hinder firefighting operations and cause a drastic change in tactics and strategy. This act falls in line with being prepared, “combat ready”, and will help you and the incident commander make better informed decisions.

1. “Have We Reached A New Low?”, Carey 2010
2. “Deadly Homewood fire could spur changes about oxygen tanks”, Joel Hood, Chicago Tribune 2010
3. “Career Firefighter/Paramedic Dies and Part-Time Firefighter/Paramedic is Injured When Caught In Residential Structure Flashover – Illinois”, NIOSH 2010
4. “Also, the civilian victim had three medical oxygen bottles [one D-cylinder (425
liters) and two M-cylinders (34 liters)] within the addition for his personal use. It is not known if the oxygen within these bottles contributed to the growth and behavior of the fire.” ibid
5. “Victim’s and auto aid response fire departments were dispatched for a chair on fire within a residence with a paralyzed subject on oxygen in the chair.” ibid
“Illinois Department Criticized In NIOSH Report”, Firefighter Nation
“Oxygen Tanks Can Be Added Danger To Firefighters”, CBS2

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