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OXYGEN, A FIRE'S BEST FRIEND, REQUIRES CAREFUL USE

Oxygen doesn't explode, but this odorless and colorless gas essential to life is food for a fire.

Indeed, there are only a handful of safety tips experts offer for the medical use of oxygen at home, and keeping pressurized oxygen away from a flame heads the list.

"That is Rule No. 1," said Patrick Egan, president of American Homecare Supply's New York division in West Seneca. "The gas makes a fire burn hotter and faster."

About 4,000 people in Erie County are on continuous home oxygen, according to Egan. They use the oxygen in one of three ways, some with greater potential for fire than others, he said.

Oxygen concentrators, for instance, take air from a room and concentrate it to nearly pure oxygen. But there is little stored oxygen to feed a fire.

Compressed oxygen is stored under pressure in a cylinder equipped with a regulator that controls the flow rate. Oxygen can be provided in a small, portable cylinder or in large tanks with up to 100 pounds of the gas.

Also, many people use liquid oxygen, a storage method that takes up less space than the compressed gas cylinder.

"Generally, people have liquid oxygen at home because it lasts longer but use smaller gas cylinders when they go out," said Egan.

The more pressurized oxygen on hand, the more gas is available to accelerate and feed a fire, experts said.

No one should smoke while oxygen is in use. And, such organizations as the American Association for Respiratory Care suggest that oxygen be kept at least five feet away from gas stoves, candles, lighted fireplaces or other heat sources.

"You're just asking for trouble if you put oxygen near a heater," Egan said.

The association offers a number of other safety precautions:

Don't use any flammable products like cleaning fluid, paint thinner or aerosol sprays while using oxygen.

Secure an oxygen cylinder to a fixed object or in a stand. If knocked over, gas may escape, causing the cylinder to take off like a missile.

Store oxygen in a cool, dark place.

Make sure a vessel of liquid oxygen is kept upright to keep the oxygen from pouring out. Liquid oxygen is so cold it can hurt skin.

In addition, keep a fire extinguisher close by, and notify the fire department that oxygen is kept in the home.

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