Proper oxygen tank storage, training prevents accidents

Dangerous oxygen tank accidents can occur within the ambulance if the cylinders are not cared for properly

By Allison G. S. Knox, EMT-B, faculty member at American Military University

During times of serious medical or traumatic emergencies, oxygen is one of the most vital components to patient care. However, these tanks must be stored properly. Oxygen tanks are filled with compressed oxygen under high pressure. If an oxygen tank’s regulator stem is sheared off, an oxygen tank can take off like a rocket and go through a concrete wall.

Oxygen tanks also pose numerous threats to an ambulance because the tanks can cause explosions if they are not handled appropriately. In a tragic incident in Ireland, an oxygen tank exploded in an ambulance, killing a patient and injuring two paramedics.

During times of serious medical or traumatic emergencies, oxygen is one of the most vital components to patient care. (Photo/Greg Friese)
During times of serious medical or traumatic emergencies, oxygen is one of the most vital components to patient care. (Photo/Greg Friese)

Whenever a serious accident happens with oxygen tanks or other equipment, it is the responsibility of managers to investigate. While oxygen tank accidents are rare, when they do occur, it is often because a company has not properly trained their employees about oxygen tank accidents and did not emphasize the importance of safeguarding the tanks.

Ultimately, it is important for public safety agencies to train their employees about the appropriate handling of oxygen tanks, storage protocol and the consequences that can result from improper handling. Public safety managers should consistently revisit their training plans to ensure they are providing adequate training measures to keep such accidents from happening.

Time pressure often leads to public disasters

Unfortunately, many emergencies result from not dedicating enough time to properly train personnel, which often indicates a larger agency problem. For example, managers may not dedicate the necessary time to train first responders about certain issues because they’re trying to achieve their training goals within a designated time frame. Not only is this a disservice to employees, but it also fails to properly convey the seriousness of the training as well as the potential danger if protocol is not followed. 

Having restrictive time constraints is certainly not just a problem among public safety agencies. A 2009 Harvard Business School article highlights numerous instances where organizations moved forward with a project despite having inadequate time that resulted in epic failures.

For example, there were serious infrastructure problems associated with NASA’s Challenger disaster, as described in the book, The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. This accident was caused by an administration error because NASA had to work within a short timeline and cut through some of the red tape to make it happen.

Focus on training to prevent accidents

Accidents happen due to numerous factors in any public safety agency and occur for just about any reason. While it can be difficult to figure out exactly where the fault lines run in any department’s infrastructure, it is still important to train people about potential hazards.

Preventing accidents within public safety departments will largely come from training focused on creating a better and safer work environment.

About the Author
Allison G. S. Knox is a faculty member in Emergency and Disaster Management at American Military University. Her research interests include emergency management and emergency medical services policy issues. Prior to teaching, Allison worked in a level one trauma center emergency department and for a Member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four Master of Arts degrees in emergency management, international relations, national security studies and history. She is a certified lifeguard and emergency medical technician and is also trained in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. Allison currently serves advocacy coordinator of Virginia for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Chapter Sponsor for the West Virginia Iota Chapter of Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society and Faculty Advisor for the Political Science Scholars. She is also on the Board of Trustees and serves as chancellor of the Southeast Region for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in the Social Sciences. She can be reached at For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

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