Medical Oxygen Fueled Fire That Took Ford St. Man’s Life

Russell Damphousse, 68, died on the first floor of this home at 10 Ford St. (WHAV News photograph.)

Home medical oxygen helped fuel the blaze that took the life of a 68-year-old man Saturday.

State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey and Haverhill Fire Chief William LaLiberty said the fatal fire that killed Russell Damphousse at his first-floor, 10 Ford St., apartment, was started by the improper use of smoking materials.

“It is quite likely the victim fell asleep smoking. He is believed to be the 68-year old resident of the first floor of the two-family home. The second-floor residents were able to escape with minor injuries, Ostroskey and LaLiberty said in a joint statement Sunday. “This tragic fire is a reminder that we want smokers to live long enough to quit,” Ostroskey added.

“When oxygen is used in the home, the amount of oxygen in air, furniture, bedding, clothing and hair goes up, making it easier for a fire to start and spread. When more oxygen is in the air, fires burn hotter and faster.”

Damphouse’s 22-year-old biological daughter, Margo Fijux of Groveland, told WHAV her father suffered from emphysema, but she has not seen him in about four years.

“There is no safe way to smoke around home oxygen. Turning off the oxygen is not enough because your clothes, hair, bedding and the tubing are oxygen-enriched,” the statement said. “Until you can quit smoking, disconnect the oxygen, wait ten minutes and go outside to smoke. This is not a safe way to smoke, but it allows oxygen time to come off your hair and clothes, and lowers the danger of fire,” they added.

The fire was jointly investigated by the Haverhill Fire and Police Departments, and State Police assigned to both the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Office of Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett. Assistance was received from the Code Compliance Unit of the Department of Fire Services and State Police Crime Scene Services. ‘

The Department of Fire Services has an educational campaign for patients and families, physicians and care givers, and firefighters and housing authorities: “Breathe Easy: Using Home Oxygen Safely.” Materials in English, Spanish and Portuguese are available on the DFS website and can be downloaded or ordered for free from the Department of Public Health’s Health Promotion Clearinghouse.