Officials mull role of oxygen tanks in fatal Valley fires

By Ashley Luthern


Fires this month in Youngstown, Howland and Boardman share two things: They were deadly, and officials have had to investigate what, if any, role medical oxygen tanks played.

“We have had this rash of fires in which oxygen is in the house at the time. Oxygen increases the richness of air in the house. Oxygen will not necessarily catch on fire, but it supports combustion and feeds the intensity of the fire. You should use extreme caution around it,” said Boardman fire investigator Lt. Jim McCreary.

The Boardman Fire Department and the state fire marshal’s office continue to investigate Monday’s fire at Mill Creek Village Apartments on Lockwood Boulevard. McCreary said the fire appears accidental — “We don’t believe a crime was committed” — and the cause remains undetermined.

Shawna Carney, 45, died Monday at St. Elizabeth Heath Center in Boardman after her rescue by firefighters. Boardman firefighters specifically commended the efforts of Mark D’Angelo, a Canfield medic and firefighter who provided CPR to Carney at the apartment.

Mahoning County deputy coroner Dr. Joseph Ohr said Wednesday that Carney’s cause of death was smoke inhalation. No evidence of trauma was found, and toxicology results are pending, Dr. Ohr said.

Services for Carney will be today at Fox Funeral Home in Boardman. Her family has requested that memorial contributions be made in her name to Hospice of the Valley, 5190 Market St. Boardman, OH 44512.

McCreary said Carney had a portable oxygen tank and liquid oxygen to refill the portable tank in the apartment.

The items were “among the belongings found in the room of origin, but by no means am I saying that it caused the fire,” McCreary said.

The last fatal fire in Boardman was Feb. 14, 1979, when Jodi Masters was found in her burning home. Her husband, Steve Masters, was convicted of aggravated murder and aggravated arson in her death.

The last fatal fire in the Mahoning Valley occurred Friday, when the Howland Fire Department responded to a house fire on Deforest Road that killed 71-year-old Joyce Barker.

Howland Fire Chief James Pantalone said Barker had a small oxygen tank that she used on an as-needed basis.

“What we were investigating was whether it was a contributing factor or not. ... At this time, we do not believe it was a factor,” Pantalone said.

The investigation is being handled by the state fire marshal’s office, he said.

On Jan. 17, Mike Fergus, 53, was killed in a fire at his Broadview Avenue home on Youngstown’s West Side.

Capt. Alvin Ware, the department’s chief fire investigator, said the cause remains undetermined.

“We believe it was misuse of smoking materials, and from what the brother told us and from what we found, it wasn’t a set fire [arson],” Ware said.

He said Fergus was on oxygen, and that is believed to have been a contributing factor in the fire’s intensity.

“Most of the people that use [oxygen] are pretty well-educated on it from the suppliers. They usually let us know right away if they have oxygen in the house,” Ware said.

McCreary said the Boardman scene has been opened to insurance investigators. Damage is estimated at about $1 million.

“That’s just for the building and not counting personal property,” he said. “The fire damage was mostly contained to the apartment of origin on the third floor, which was the apartment of the deceased tenant.”

McCreary said the American Red Cross and Simco Management Corp., which owns Mill Creek Village Apartments, are assisting the displaced tenants.

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