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Oxygen tank fire may due to use of aluminum in fittings

by Merrie Leininger

In the weeks following the death of Genoa resident Frankie Schaffer as the result of an oxygen tank fire, a public health advisory has been released regarding the use of aluminum in oxygen regulators.

The Food and Drug Administration and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health jointly issued the public health advisory Feb. 5 which addresses concerns with the use of aluminum in oxygen regulators. The cause Schaffer remains under investigation.

“We believe that the presence of aluminum has been a major factor in the severity of fires and explosions as described in the advisory. In order to eliminate this safety concern, the FDA is discouraging the use of aluminum in oxygen regulators,” the press release from the Department of Health and Human Services reads.

The FDA has received 16 reports of aluminum regulators used with oxygen cylinders burning or exploding in the past five years. Many of the incidents occurred during emergency medical use or during routine equipment checkout by health care workers.

Fire Inspector Terry Taylor of the East Fork Fire and Paramedic districts said the district is already working on converting all the aluminum regulators to brass, something the Reno Fire Department did two days after a Truckee Meadows firefighter was injured in a fire during a routine check of an oxygen tank.

“It is going to cost the taxpayers about $3,200, but it is something we are just going to do. We’re in the business of saving lives, not making it worse,” Taylor said.

Taylor said Johnson Lane Volunteer Fire Department, of which he is chief, has ordered $500 worth of new brass regulators using money they raised themselves.

“The district doesn’t have the money to buy a new one for every EMT,” he said.

n Major factor. Most of the accident reports involved the Model L270 series of regulators manufactured by Life Support Products Inc. and Allied Healthcare Products Inc., according to the FDA.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the FDA believes the aluminum in the regulators was a major factor in the ignition and severity of the fires.

Because aluminum is lighter than steel, it is also used in oxygen cylinders. The FDA and the national institute believe that aluminum cylinders can be used safely with brass regulators, but the combination of both oxygen regulators and cylinders made from aluminum poses an increased fire hazard.

Aluminum and its alloys are more likely to ignite than brass. In standard tests, aluminum can burn vigorously at pressures as low at 25 pounds per square inch, while brass does not burn at pressures below 10,000 psi.

n Schaffer death. Taylor, who is investigating the death of Frankie Schaffer, said he is waiting for an official request from the FDA to send them the evidence still retained by East Fork. He said the manufacturer of her oxygen tank and her family have also requested they get the evidence, but the FDA wants to submit it to their White Sands testing office.

“When I get the official request, I will meet with the district attorney and decide what to do,” he said.