Not the usual suspect

There was an incident here in Ireland a couple of days ago.

I'm loath to call it a "tragic" incident simply because it is an overused term constantly employed by our beloved press though it was in fact a tragedy.

Anyhows, an elderly man was being brought to hospital by ambulance when the ambulance exploded.  The patient died in the explosion and the ambulance crew were seriously injured.

The immediate reaction was that a cylinder of oxygen had exploded.  This struck me as strange, as I had always understood that oxygen is an inert nonflammable gas.  Indeed it is necessary for combustion but always in conjunction with something else.  In other words, I cannot get my head around the thought of a cylinder exploding unless there was a fairly intense fire, sufficient to rupture the cylinder where the sudden addition of oxygen would indeed cause an intense flare up.

I was chatting to the daughter last night.  She is a trainee [nearly qualified?] paramedic so naturally the subject of the explosion cropped up.  She too had been having serious doubts as she is very familiar with oxygen cylinders and ambulances.  However this doubt doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone else, as there had been a general alert put out for all ambulance personnel to check their cylinders.

Of course I was waiting for the inevitable.

The family of the dead man have had to go public to state that he wasn't smoking.

Even in the aftermath of a terrible incident, they just have to jump on the anti-smoker bandwaggon.

But if it has been in the papers then it must be true.  A denial by the family will be conveniently ignored.

Doubtless there are people gloating as I scribble this.

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Not the usual suspect — 18 Comments

  1. I seem to remember a report a few years ago of a patient in hospital, evidently desperate for a smoke, dying in an accident involving an oxygen cylinder – and there were vile comments below the line.

    One of my worst fears is having to be in hospital for any length of time.- you can’t even sneak outside in the night as they lock the doors – like prison in fact.

    • That's more than likely.  If you light a match inside an oxygen tent for example, the match will go off like a marine flare along with anything flamable such as the bedding.  Nasty.

      I hate hospitals!

  2. I used to be a cryogenic tanker driver. Oxygen is lethal! In training some of the videos were quite horrific. I'm talking liquid here but IF a cylinder ruptures the gas is very concentrated and will cause anything that can burn TO burn quite apart from substances which spontaneously combust in high concentrations of Oxygen, which include plastics as well as many other things.

    • This is the point about oxygen though.  If liquid oxygen spills it is in itself harmless.  It's only when it comes into contact with any combustion, such as a spark or a minute [match?] flame that all hell breaks loose?  If a liquid oxygen tanker crashes for example, there will be an explosion as the sparks from the rupture would set off anything combustible in the neighbourhood?

      In the case above though, we're talking about a small cylinder which would have to be leaking for a considerable time to give enough concentration.  The cylinder itself would not spontaneously explode which is their implication.

  3. If you cast your mind back to 1967 you’ll remember that three Appollo astronauts perished due to a spark in their capsule while they were training on the launch pad. The capsule had a pure oxygen atmosphere, naked circuitry and flammable nylon curtains. Velcro, the manufacturer, could have supplied flame retardent materials but, astonishingly, nobody thought to ask. Grissom, Chaffee and White were burnt to a crisp – three crisps – in seconds, they barely had time to call for help.

    • I do indeed remember it [shit! Nearly fifty years ago?].  A very nasty incident but very quick for the three victims.  How come I remember Gus Grissom's name in particular? He must have been on a previous mission…….

  4. I can’t believe that anyone would even consider the possibility that this poor old chap was smoking as he disembarked from an ambulance!  It’s an ambulance, for God’s sake!!  Even the heaviest, chain-smoking, five-packs-a-day smoker wouldn’t light up in an ambulance, partly because, if you’re ill enough to need an ambulance, then having a ciggie is probably the last thing on your mind, but also because any attempt to light up a cigarette at any point in the process would be firmly prevented by the staff the moment you took the packet out of your pocket!  Whoever suggested that there was even the remotest possibility that this was the cause must surely be the kind of anti-smoker who is so completely brainwashed that they simply can’t contemplate anything bad happening at all that isn’t caused by smoking.  Floods, earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, wars, air crashes, mass murders, terrorism – you name it, they’ll state it was caused by smoking.  You know, real, dyed-in-the-wool, born-again-religious-freak style stuff.  Which simply shows what extraordinarily stupid people many anti-smokers have become, since the PTB have been foolish enough to listen to (nay, indeed, to encourage) their crackpot ideas.

  5. back in whenever the building ship HMS Sheffielf the one that copped the exocet in the Falklands War suffered the catastrophe of an oxygen explosion. Basically the contractor who had been burning through plating with an oxy acetylene cutter had turned off the acetylene and forgot about the oxygen. As he put his torch down it went cutting lever down and the cutting jet was spurting full monty.

    He nipped topside for a fag or so the story goes and when he got back he picked up his cutting torch pulled out his sparker and boom he disappeared in a fireball that took out the ships plating with ease blowing it across the dock.

    The compartment he was in became oxygen enriched and it is said but cannot be proved for obvious reasons that as he was smoking his fag on the way back to the compartment and as is ciggies way in an oxygen rich environment it burned down very quickly which he appeared to be unaware was a sign of an oxygen enriched atmosphere…

    Having used such cutting torches myself in a former life in the same shipyard to become explosive the oxygen needs to be contained. It's gaseous preference is to escape to atmosphere and seek out hydrogen to bond with.

    I don't know but assume ambulances are very well ventilated so quite how one would fill up with escaping oxygen to the level where a spark would set it off is a mystery. According to the safety films the fire and safety forerunner of the tossers called health and safety, department showed us constantly through the training years oxygen unlike acetylene needs to be contained and ignited by a source of ignition be it spark be it flame or whatever and contained in sufficient concentration or else it won't go bang.

    And when oxygen goes bang it destroys its container so the ambulance being a thin metal skin would have gone bye bye and there would have been no injured chaps there would have been no chaps to find.

    All from memory the Sheffield stuff and another memory is the chap that died was working previously on a pier on the south coast somewhere where he  did a similar thing left the acetylene on and turned the oxygen off which created a massive fire. Naturally he survived the fire only to die in the Sheffield explosion.

  6. Hah!  Now I'm even more confused than ever.

    So it could possibly have been an oxygen aided fire?  There is a photograph [in the first link abouve] that shows part of the damage, it looked like an intense heat rather than an explosion, as the metal has burned away but there was no distortion that would have resulted from a bang.

    I think I'll leave this one to the experts.

    • There is too much ambulance remaining for oxygen to have been involved in that firee. There would be no ambulance left. We are talking a 1/4 inch mild steel plate that was blow across the dock and half inch thick steel girders bent out of shape..

      The oxygen cylinders are both visible stood up unburnt undamsged in the doorway of the ambulance totally undamaged so the fire must have been in the cab engine as evidenced by the fact it is the only part of the ambulance covered up in tarpaulin.. To preserve the scene for the fire investigation.


  7. I have to wonder if vaping would be enough to cause oxygen to ignite?
    Last time I needed an ambulance I was allowed to vape a couple hits before bringing me into the ER. I have also stealthily vaped when I had oxygen on. I removed the cannulas and took a few hits no worse for wear….Stupid? Yes but when I get boed I’m likely to try and amuse {not kill!} myself.

    • Theoretically, the element would flare up in an oxygen rich environment but the concentration would have to be quite high [I would imagine…?] 

  8. It's possible there was an oxygen leak inside the ambulance that the paramedics probably didn't hear due to road noise. It was a significant enough leak that put more oxygen into the atmosphere inside the ambulance than normal venting could take out making an oxygen rich atmosphere. Now oxygen in and of itself isn't explosive but it's one hell of a catalyst (oxidizer) so that anything that is even remotely flammable, like isopropyl alcohol for example, will burn quick and hot in that type of atmosphere.

    If the tanks of oxygen were kept in there own protective compartment they may of may not have been exposed to enough heat to cause the compressed and/or liquid oxygen to undergo rapid expansion that would rupture the tanks. If this were to happen while the ambulance was on fire then all hell would break loose.

    Sounds like it was more a set of problems that caused the fire. Like an atmosphere a bit over rich in oxygen and an electrical short at the same time. Then  the other factors I already mentioned would come into play. I'd be interested to hear what they found out.

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