When Oxygen Tanks Explode

Remember how in EMT school they taught you how deadly oxygen tanks were? How you had to handle them carefully otherwise you might rupture the tank and how there was no smoking around oxygen because the tank might explode?

Then when you got your EMT card, on your second call for a “shortness of breath” you walked into an apartment to see an 80 year old woman on oxygen via nasal cannula while smoking a cigarette. After you screamed and dove for cover, your partner dragged you out from under the couch and explained that contrary to what you learned oxygen is not combustible. He explained to you that what makes oxygen dangerous is that its an accelerant. Ambulances have a tendency to become oxygen saturated environments which can catch fire and become fully involved quickly. And oxygen safety was pretty promptly forgotten about… because you know… if it doesn’t EXPLODE it can’t be all that dangerous.

You may have already seen this at Statter911, but check out this video to see what happens when oxygen tanks DO explode:

Class 'M' Oxygen Tank Split Open By Contents Under Pressure Heated By Fire
While oxygen is not combustible, its important to understand that it is a gas that is stored under pressure. While a tank filled with combustible gas is bad, a tank filled with any gas under pressure is just as bad in a fire as evidenced by this video above. The photo to the right shows that the main oxygen tank was literally split open like a hot dog on the grill, which resulted in a massive release of accelerant into the fire.

The vehicle was a 2006 type II AEV Traumahawk, was not due for its PM for another 1500 miles, and had all its fluid levels checked that morning. During the course of its operations that day it did have two very short periods of being stuck in the snow, was travelling on snow and salt covered roads which undoubtedly got onto the body and the undercarriage. There was no patient onboard and the unit was actually responding to provide a lift assist over some snow when the driver smelled and saw the smoke coming from the dashboard. He placed the vehicle in park, turned the engine off immediately, and he and his partner evacuated the vehicle. There was plenty of time for that vehicle to become an oxygen saturated environment in its 4 years of service.

The really important news is that no one was hurt in the fire and subsequent explosion of the vehicle, not even the firefighter who was up on it when the main tank split like a hot dog. Now you may be wondering how I know so much about this vehicle and the situation surrounding it. The truth is, this happens to be video from one of the ambulances out of my garage. As with all of those homies we lose, I poured some out for her in remembrance of her years of service…