June 1, 2010

Virtuoso’s Proposal Merits Serious Discussion

It’s a rare day when we think an idea put forth by Dennis Virtuoso has merit. After all, the hyper-partisan minority leader of the County Legislature has had a tendency, during his tenure, to alienate nearly everyone except his own mother.
That qualifier being given, however, we applaud the thought that Virtuoso put into a proposed local law to require disclosure of home oxygen cylinders, which some local firefighters fear could turn into deadly bombs in a blaze.
For more than a decade, as the home oxygen canisters have become more pervasive, there has been concern that the canisters can, at a minimum, add to the intensity of a fire, or worse, explode like bombs, as happened in this New Jersey fire a decade ago. And just a year ago, an oxygen canister in a parked vehicle in Kansas destroyed both the car and a nearby home.
Perhaps of most concern, locally, is a recent near-disaster in rural Lockport: “Frontier Fire Company Chief Gary Hunt, chairman of the county Fire Advisory Board, said firefighters’ concerns were magnified by a mobile home fire in March in the Town of Lockport, where several oxygen tanks exploded.
For those reasons, we worry that County Legislator Pete Smolinski of North Tonawanda is rushing to judgment on the matter by announcing his unequivocal opposition out of concern for medical privacy. While we understand the pain that HIPAA and associated laws have caused our legal system, that does nothing to mitigate the potential danger from an exploding oxygen cylinder—or the concerns local firefighters, and especially volunteer firefighters rushing into unknown situations, no doubt feel.
Virtuoso’s local law is far from ready for passage, and some of the legal headaches Smolinski is concerned about must be dealt with before such a law can come to fruition. But a conversation on this topic needs to take place, and we hope Virtuoso and fellow Niagara Falls Democrat Jason Cafarella, a professional firefighter with a seat on the County Legislature’s Community Safety and Security Committee, will take the lead on the issue and explore reasonable compromises that satisfy both sides’ concerns.
Incidentally, for those who think Virtuoso is overreacting on this issue, the video below graphically shows the potential for damage and destruction from a pressurized oxygen cylinder exploding:

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