Investigators Conclude Man Burned in Downtown Haverhill Fire was Smoking in Bed, Near Oxygen

Haverhill firefighters respond to a fire at the Wadleigh House, 170 Main St., Haverhill. (Jarvi Productions photograph for WHAV News.)

The man burned in a fire early Sunday morning was “smoking in bed” while using medical oxygen.

Formal determination of the fire’s cause came yesterday afternoon from Haverhill Fire Chief William F. Laliberty, Haverhill Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro and State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey

“When oxygen is used in the home, the amount of oxygen in the air, furniture, clothing, and hair goes up, making it easier for a fire to start and spread, whether or not the oxygen machine is running,” said a press release from Ostroskey’s office.

The man, who was not identified, was airlifted to a Boston hospital for treatment after a fire just before 6 a.m., at the Wadleigh House for men at 170 Main St., Haverhill.

The statement from the fire marshal’s office said heat detectors, smoke alarms and fire sprinkler system in the 22-unit building all activated. Once alerted, neighbors entered the studio apartment and found the victim on fire on his bed. Using fire extinguishers, they were able to put out the flames enough to move him into the hallway.

Haverhill firefighters provided emergency medical attention and he was taken to the local hospital suffering from burn injuries.

Laliberty said “fire protection systems worked as intended and protected all the other residents of the building.” Heat detectors and the sprinkler system are tied to a municipal fire alarm system that automatically notified the fire department. Two sprinkler heads activated and contained the fire to the studio apartment until the fire department arrived.

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 to the Office of Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett. Assistance was received from the state Department of Fire Services Code Compliance Unit.

Laliberty advised residents to “Keep oxygen and tubing 10 feet away from heat sources such as candles, matches, lighters, heaters, wood stoves, electric razors, hair dryers, cooking stoves and smoking materials.” He added, “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 soak up the oxygen and become oxygen-enriched.”

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