HSA issues guidelines on oxygen cylinder use after ambulance fire death of Kildare man

Focus of investigations into tragedy is oxygen supply and equipment in ambulance

Henry Bauress

Reporter:

Henry Bauress

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henry.bauress@leinsterleader.ie

HSA issues guidelines on oxygen cylinder use after ambulance fire death of Kildare man

The scene of the fire at Naas Hospital last year

The Health and Safety Authority has issued a guidance note on the use of oxygen containers following the death of a man at Naas General Hospital last year.

Christopher Byrne, who was in his 70s and from Suncroft, Co Kildare, died in an accident last September 22 after the ambulance he was in burst into flames.

The vehicle was at the entrance to the hospital's emergency department it went on fire. Two paramedics were injured as they tried to rescue Mr Byrne.

Following the tragedy, the Health Service Executive (HSE) said that focus of investigations was centred on the oxygen supply and equipment in the ambulance.

A full report from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is not yet ready for publication, and a Garda investigation remains to be completed, but the HSA has issued a guideline on the use of portable medical oxygen cylinders (PMOC).

David Powderly, solicitor for the Byrne family, said the family welcomed the guidance note.

The guideline said that “oxygen is nonflammable but strongly supports combustion and under high pressure with certain conditions can cause common materials to ignite suddenly.”

PMOCs are used in the health services to give “temporary uninterrupted portable oxygen supply to patients.”

The guidance note said that, “although rare”, PMOC fires can occur, particularly when the cylinder valve is initially opened and the flow selected. It said operatives need to be mindful of this possibility and treat the cylinder with due care and attention at all times.

The Authority has advised that oxygen cylinders should be prepared for use in a vertical position and vigilance is of “critical importance.”

It said that, in setting up the cylinder, operatives should use it away from the patient when connecting the equipment, selecting the flow rate and opening the valve. It also said that during set up the fir tree opening should not be pointed at patients or operatives and that unless there are no alternatives, cylinders should not be placed on patient beds.

The guidance said operatives should use extra care if there is no option and should, if possible, prepare the cylinder outside of the ambulance.

Following the accident last year, SIPTU, the trade union which represents many paramedics,  called for a full examination of the ambulance fleet, said to be around 170 vehicles strong. Three separate investigations got under way following the incident.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed that Mr Byrne's death was as a direct result of the fire. Eyewitness reports said that everything had been operating normally prior to the explosion which led to the fire, but very quickly the vehicle was in flames.

There were concerns over whether or not there was an electrical fault, and whether there was an oxygen leak in the vehicle that had built up.

SIPTU said at the time that there have been previous fires in ambulances, with around four vehicles damaged by fire in the previous five years.

The HSE had indicated from early on that one possible cause being examined related to the oxygen tanks on the vehicle.