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Another oxygen tank fire reported

by Merrie Leininger

The recent death of Genoa resident Frankie Schaffer was followed this week by another fire started by an oxygen tank.

Truckee Meadows Fire District Firefighter Justin States was doing a daily equipment check in which he turns on an oxygen tank to make sure it is working, then turns it off again.

Ron Jones, an investigator with the Reno Fire Department who is involved in the investigation, said when States turned on the oxygen tank, something caused the gas to ignite and States was burned on his hands and face.

He was treated and is now at home recovering. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Although Jones said the valve or regulator is different from the one on Schaffer’s tank, and they still are determining what caused the States fire, they think it was caused by two separate things: a spark in the regulator and metal fatigue.

“We will have the people with the letters after their names take a look at these things,” he said.

– Investigation. Terry Taylor of the East Fork Fire and Paramedic District is investigating the Schaffer fire.

He said he took apart everything that could have created a spark in the doctor’s office and came up with nothing. He also fully investigated the possibility somebody was smoking near her, but determined that was not the case either.

“It’s nothing she or the doctors did,” he said. “I took everything apart – nothing in that office caused a spark.”

Taylor said he suspects, but hasn’t been able to prove, that simple static electricity, caused by the nylon bag the tank was carried in started the fire.

He said the atmospheric conditions that day were perfect for a build-up of static electricity.

“I called around Nevada and eastern California and this case is very unusual. I have not found any other incident like this that anyone can remember,” he said. “But people should be mindful that on cold, dry days they are building up a static electricity charge and if they have on rubber-soled shoes and if they have a leak, the spark can ignite surrounding material and oxygen can turn it into a blow torch.”

Taylor said 90 percent of consumer oxygen tank fires are caused by people smoking while using them. Another cause is people getting too close to a heat source like a stove or radiator.

It is important not to clean the cylinders with any petroleum-based cleaner and not to touch them if you have petroleum-based products on your hands. Examples of petroleum-based products are gasoline and Vaseline.

– Firehouse safety. East Fork Fire Department personnel keep the tanks stored in padded bags in case they are dropped, Taylor said.

They also have the cylinders tested to make sure there is no leaking and keep them away from fire and heat, he said.

Although he said the Truckee Meadows fire was a different set of circumstances than what happened to Schaffer, people using the tanks should learn from both by always taking safety precautions. Taylor said States was smart by keeping his head turned away from the tank when he turned it on.

“That is probably what saved him,” Taylor said.

He said he has not heard of this happening in other fire departments often, although there was a series of fires in the Houston Fire Department caused by regulators failing because of wear and tear through constant use.

Regulators decrease the pressure of the oxygen coming out of the tank to just above atmospheric pressure and that process causes heat.

In the Houston incidents, the tanks were also stored in an area were there were also fuels, he said.

n Safety precautions. Truckee Meadows Fire District Training Officer John Gillenwater said it is a “fairly large legal issue,” he said. “We’ve done some research and found out this is happening all over the country with fire-based employees.”

He said the Truckee Meadows district has normal safety precautions they always take with the oxygen tanks.

“In the normal course of the day, we keep the cylinders away from fuels and flames. Cleanliness is very important because it is an oxidizer, it helps support fire. It just burns that much better. It makes fire very tenacious.”

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