Portable oxygen cylinder likely cause of deadly ambulance blaze, officials say

The fire left an elderly patient dead and paramedic critically injured.
Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 10:52 AM HST|Updated: Sep. 14, 2022 at 5:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A deadly ambulance fire last month has been classified as “accidental” and the likely source was a portable oxygen cylinder, city officials said at a news conference Wednesday.

Honolulu Emergency Services Department Director Jim Ireland said the fire started when the source of oxygen supplied to the patient was removed from the ambulance and switched to a portable oxygen cylinder.

“There was a sound described as a pop followed by a bright flash of light,” Ireland said, “and then the back of the ambulance was filling with smoke and fire.” He said no external source of combustion was found.

EMS said reattaching to mobile oxygen is a standard procedure and there were no external electrical devices that may have caused the fire.

City leaders said there is no evidence that EMS staff error contributed to the incident.

Ireland added the paramedic who was injured was able to speak to investigators from his hospital bed.

Authorities stressed the likely cause of the fire remains preliminary and that investigations are ongoing.

The fiery blast occurred as the ambulance was just outside Adventist Health Castle hospital in Kailua.


Honolulu Fire Department Chief Kalani Hao said his investigators were able to determine the blaze was “accidental,” but could not definitively rule what sparked it.

The 91-year-old patient in the back of the ambulance, identified as Waimanalo resident Fred Kaneshiro, died at the scene. Paramedic Jeff Wilkinson was critically injured in the fire and remains hospitalized.

Ireland also talked about meeting Wilkinson and his family.

”I’m happy to report. He’s out of the ICU. He’s doing better. It was an emotional meeting for me,” said Ireland.

According to Wilkinson’s GoFundMe page set up by fellow paramedic Kea Smith, his surgery Tuesday went well using donor skin. He continues to need therapy and future surgeries, but can move around despite the pain.

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