Portable Oxygen Tank Likely Caused Ambulance Fire Outside Hospital That Killed Patient

·2 min read
Ambulance with lights flashing.
Ambulance with lights flashing.

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The ambulance fire in Hawaii that killed a patient and injured a paramedic has been ruled as "accidental", according to officials.

A team of first responders were transporting a patient to Adventist Health Castle Medical Center in Kailua on Aug. 24 when the ambulance caught fire in the driveway of the facility, Honolulu Emergency Services Department Director Jim Ireland said at a press conference on Wednesday, shared by Hawaii News Now.

The fire likely started when the patient's source of oxygen was switched to a portable oxygen cylinder, the official said.

At that moment, Ireland said it was reported that "there was a sound described as a pop followed by a bright flash of light, with the back of the ambulance was filling with smoke and fire."

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The patient — identified as 91-year-old Waimanalo resident Fred Kaneshiro — died in the blaze, Ireland said. The paramedic, Jeff Wilkinson, remains in the hospital, "but continues to improve every day," he added.

"He's expressed his thanks and is grateful for the outpouring of support from all of you," the official said.

Wilkinson was using a CPAP device on the patient that was connected to oxygen supplied via the main oxygen tank on the ambulance prior to the blaze, Ireland said at Wednesday's press conference, also shared by Mayor Mayor Rick Blangiardi on Facebook.

The switch from the main oxygen source to the portable one as ambulances approach the hospital is "standard practice," he said.

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"This is done to allow the patient to remain on oxygen as they are brought from the ambulance into the emergency room on the gurney," Ireland explained.

Adventist Health Castle's emergency department treated the paramedic for his injuries before he was transported to Straub Medical Center in Honolulu, home of the state's only burn unit, according to the hospital's previous statement.

At a press conference held shortly after the deadly fire, Ireland said the incident was "something I've never seen before."

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"All our paramedics, EMTs [and] dispatchers are all treasured members of our staff and or family, they save lives every day," he said, "and it's just very hard to be in a situation where our team is the ones who are injured. I'll just leave it at that."

During Wednesday's press conference Honolulu Police Chief Arthur "Joe" Logan said investigations into the incident are ongoing.