‘Everything is on the table’: Cause of deadly ambulance fire remains unclear

EMS officials say “everything is on the table” as investigators try to determine what caused a fiery blast inside an ambulance that left an elderly patient dead
Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 9:57 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 25, 2022 at 4:24 PM HST
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KAILUA (HawaiiNewsNow) - EMS officials say “everything is on the table” as investigators try to determine what caused a fiery blast inside an ambulance that left an elderly patient dead and a paramedic critically injured.

“We’re just as eager for answers as everyone else,” said city Emergency Services Director Dr. Jim Ireland at a news conference Thursday, stressing that the cause of the blaze is still unknown.

“We want to know what happened and we want to make sure nothing like this happens again.”

Investigation into ambulance blast likely to consider potential role of oxygen

Dr. Ireland added that EMS would not change safety protocols based on what is known now.

“We are not changing anything operationally. But obviously if anything does come with the investigation that will give us information on best practices or something we should do differently. Of course we’ll do that,” he said.

The apparent explosion happened Wednesday night outside Adventist Health Castle hospital.

EMS officials said the 91-year-old patient in the back of the ambulance died at the scene. Meanwhile, the paramedic who was critically injured remains hospitalized in the ICU at Straub Medical Center.

An EMT in the front of the ambulance was uninjured.

Officials said after the blast, he jumped out of the driver’s seat and tried to open the back doors to the ambulance but was unable to because of the flames.

Ireland said while the Honolulu Fire Department is investigating the fire, the city is also making records available to national organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

He added that fires in ambulances are “extremely rare,” but not unheard of.

“This is nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Ireland said.

Also at the news conference, Ireland answered reporters’ questions about the presence of oxygen in ambulances, noting that portable and stationary oxygen machines are on all EMS ambulances and frequently used in emergency calls.

“As far as how often we use this type of equipment, and I’m not even acknowledging we were using it on this call, but I’m just saying we carry it,” Dr. Ireland said.

Some have speculated that an oxygen device or oxygen-rich environment could have contributed to a blast.

“We use oxygen every day on many, many calls,” Ireland said, adding that without a known cause there are no planned safety changes being made in ambulances. “We need the investigation to give us insight.”

The paramedic who was injured is a 10-year veteran of the force. Ireland described him as a “family man.”

The identity of the patient who died has not yet been released.

Officials described the 911 call for the elderly man as routine. He was being transferred to Castle.

The Honolulu Fire Department responded to the blaze and said crews had the fire under control within 11 minutes of their arrival.

Disturbing witness video showed plumes of thick smoke pouring from the ambulance as firefighters responded, frantically working to put out the flames.

At the news conference, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi also offered his condolences to the patient’s family and said the incident is a reminder of how first responders serve communities around the clock.

“We ask a lot of them time and again,” he said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.