One person was injured and four others forced from their homes after fire broke out in an apartment at Jaycee Towers Thursday morning. The Chattanooga Fire Department received the alarm at 8:49 a.m. and responded to 500 W. Martin Luther King Boulevard with six fire companies. Battalion Chief Chris Willmore said the fire was in an apartment on the fifth floor.
The victim was identified as Frank Brannon, 63. Mr. Brannon suffered from smoke inhalation and had second- and third-degree burns to his hip. On Thursday afternoon, he was listed in stable condition at Erlanger Medical Center. Captain Anthony Moore with the Fire Investigation Division said the cause of the fire appears to be accidental. Captain Moore said Brannon was apparently smoking in bed, while using an oxygen mask.
Chief Willmore said the victim had already been helped out of the apartment before firefighters arrived. John Penley, who lives next door, and Angel Chavez, the building manager, both heard the fire alarm. When they opened the door to the apartment, it was full of smoke. Details are still being obtained, but both men told firefighters that they helped the victim out of the apartment.
The fire appears to have started on or around the victim’s bed. Chief Willmore said a sprinkler head activated, which put the fire out, but not before the room was filled with thick, black smoke. Chief Willmore said the victim – a 63-year-old man -- was suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.
Firefighters handed off the victim to paramedics with Hamilton County EMS, who transported him to Erlanger Medical Center. The victim’s condition was still being assessed.
The activation of the sprinkler head appears to have done its job in putting the fire out, but it also caused water damage to several apartment units on lower floors. Volunteers with the American Red Cross of Southeast Tennessee were called in to assist four residents who will need an alternate place to stay.
Officials said, "Smoking while on oxygen is very dangerous because the oxygen makes everything more flammable. It’s dangerous for the person smoking, and it’s dangerous for everyone else in the building because of the fire hazard."
Captain Moore advises anyone on oxygen to avoid all sources of ignition, such as lit cigarettes, candles, lighters, gas stoves, etc.
The potential for a fire hazard around oxygen is well-known. However, this is sometimes forgotten or overlooked. There are a few simple precautions that can be taken to create a safe home environment when using oxygen.
- Oxygen canisters should be kept at least 5-10 feet away from gas stoves, lighted fireplaces, woodstoves, candles or other sources of open flames.
- Do not use electric razors while using oxygen. (These are a possible source of sparks.)
- Do not use oil, grease or petroleum-based products on the equipment. Do not use it near you while you use oxygen. These materials are highly flammable and will burn readily with the presence of oxygen. Avoid petroleum-based lotions or creams, like Vaseline, on your face or upper chest. Check the ingredients of such products before purchase. If a skin moisturizer is needed, consider using cocoa butter, aloe vera or other similar products. For lubrication or rehydration of dry nasal passages, use water-based products. Your pharmacist or care provider can suggest these.
- Post signs in every room where oxygen is in use. Make sure that absolutely NO SMOKING occurs in the home or in the car when oxygen is in use.
- ">Secure an oxygen cylinder to a solidly fixed object to avoid creating a missile out of the tank. This might happen if it was accidentally knocked over and gas was allowed to escape.
* Source: WebMD and the COPD Foundation.
Chattanooga firefighters and paramedics with Hamilton County EMS check on some of the other residents.
- Photo2 by Bruce Garner