Tragic Fire Death Amps Up Fire Safety Plan

Nick Lawton
NewsWest 9

ODESSA - 72-year-old Alice Richardson's tragic death may be almost a month old but her story has inspired Odessa firefighters to make their home fire safety program even bigger.

"Since the last incident that we had regarding home oxygen therapy, we want to go ahead and include home oxygen therapy and smoking," Odessa Fire Investigator, Yolanda Rincon, said.

Now fire investigators are taking the new plan to nursing homes as well as assisted and independent living facilities, warning of the dangers of smoking while using oxygen.

"If you've got it on your face, if you've got a beard, you're putting more oxygen onto the beard, your clothing," Rincon said. "If you're in bed, it's enriching the pillows, the blankets, your clothing that you're wearing. If the conditions are just right when you light up that cigarette, it's going to make that particular item easy to burn."

Deerings Nursing Home in Odessa heard about the new program. They said they want to respect their residents' desire to smoke while protecting their lives so they have designated smoking areas and times.

"We have one location for smokers to go to and that's out the courtyard door," Deerings Administrator, David Barnard, said. "We still have to control the times, control access so that we're sure that they're not out there smoking while somebody rolls out the door with an oxygen tank."

In the courtyard, staff members supervise any residents who want to smoke and no one smokes when an oxygen tank is near.

"Just because we've got rules and policies, it doesn't mean it's solved," Barnard said. "We have to constantly keep an eye out. We have to enforce those rules to keep everyone safe."

Odessa firefighters hope Richardson's story and the new expanded safety program that she inspired prevents any more tragic accidents.

"For your safety, don't smoke while you're using home oxygen therapy," Rincon said.

Across the U.S. every year, 45 people are killed and more than 1,000 others are injured due to fires fueled by home oxygen equipment.

Odessa firefighters hope this new expanded safety program whittles those numbers down.

They're taking this program next to the Lincoln Tower in Odessa on Thursday morning.