NC inspectors find hyperbaric chambers violate safety rules
The Raleigh Fire Department has ordered a growing wellness company to stop using hyperbaric chambers which the company says will “make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time”.
The rooms, as used by Restore Hyper Wellness, do not meet fire safety standards, a senior North Carolina fire code official has concluded.
The Charlotte Fire Department ordered Restore to suspend the use of its rooms at three locations for the same reason earlier this month, The Charlotte Observer reported. The Durham Fire Marshal is taking a wait-and-see approach.
Medical hyperbaric oxygen therapy puts patients in pressurized chambers so their lungs can take in more oxygen to treat bends in divers, radiation injuries in cancer patients, and stubborn wounds in people with diabetes.
It’s not the same as “gentle hyperbaric oxygen therapy” increasingly offered by the wellness industry, which has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Restore, which is growing with private equity investments, sells the “soft” version in franchises coast to coast.
Restore claims its therapy can help “optimize sleep, speed athletic recovery, repair muscle, and improve cognitive clarity.”
Critics say the wellness industry lacks proof that it can deliver the promised benefits. But it’s the devastating fire hazard that’s pushing some officials to close the rooms, at least temporarily.
After receiving a tip, a Raleigh fire inspector drove to the restoration site in the Village District on June 16. He found that there was no fire suppression system in the building, but noted in his report that the company disputed the conclusion of the state fire marshal’s office. that one is needed.
In written statements to The News & Observer, Restore defended its safety record and said it provided services “in accordance with applicable regulations and guidelines.” Its Raleigh location opened in December.
“Restore has provided more than 130,000 mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions to clients without incident, and is pleased to work with the city and state to ensure protocols continue to ensure safety,” a door-to-door wrote. word.
An unresolved appeal
A company representative is currently in talks with Charlie Johnson, the state’s chief fire code consultant, in hopes that Johnson will revise his opinion, officials said.
Johnson left the door open to that possibility. If Restore gets a formal interpretation from the National Fire Protection Association that it’s exempt from the rules for healthcare facilities, it will roll over, Johnson said.
Obtaining this document, however, may not be easy.
The code does not address the specific type of hyperbaric chamber used by Restore and other wellness companies, said NFPA principal engineer Gregory Harrington. This means that these decisions are left to local authorities.
The NFPA received a formal request for interpretation, but the request did not meet the group’s processing standards, so one was not issued, Harrington said Tuesday.
The organization could clarify its preferred interpretation in the next edition of the code, in 2024, he said.
Meanwhile, different jurisdictions take different positions.
Unlike Raleigh and Charlotte, Durham opted to allow Restore to provide hyperbaric oxygen therapy while Johnson and company officials muddled through.
“We don’t want to compromise public safety, but obviously we want to make sure they’re in violation before they affect anyone’s business,” said city fire marshal Jody Morton.
Across the country there is a similar patchwork. Some fire marshals have ordered cease and desist orders for welfare businesses while others are letting their chambers continue to operate.
Some firefighters in Virginia, Georgia and Utah have opted to shut down the service, said Tom Workman, who has followed the industry for many years as part of his quality assurance work for Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical. Society.
“Less fire, more explosion”
What Restore calls “gentle hyperbaric oxygen therapy” involves putting someone in a human-sized zippered bag and giving them supplemental oxygen.
The FDA has not approved the bags for use with oxygen tanks or oxygen concentrators, or for any reason other than the treatment of altitude sickness.
The devices don’t go to the pressures required for most therapeutic uses, said Dr. Helen Gelly, a physician who has practiced hyperbaric medicine for more than 40 years and recently briefed Georgia firefighters on the risks.
The risk of fire comes from oxygen under pressure.
“In a hyperbaric environment, you’re essentially recharging the oxidant,” one of the three elements needed for a fire, along with fuel and heat, said Rachel Lance, a biomedical engineer and researcher at the Duke Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental. Physiology.
“That means things that aren’t normally flammable become excellent fuels inside a hyperbaric chamber.”
A cell phone, for example, could become deadly, she said.
Some wellness companies, such as Durham’s BR3 studio, state on their websites that electronics are allowed during treatments.
In an email, however, BR3 said it changed that policy because it wanted to “promote a disconnected sensory deprivation experience.” The company then received a notice from its device supplier telling it to refrain from allowing electronics on the advice of firefighters, according to the email.
A Restore spokeswoman did not respond directly to a question from The News & Observer about company policy.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration released a fact sheet debunking common false claims about treatments, and the American Medical Association is now urging the FDA to take further action against the wellness industry.
The powerful doctors’ organization recently voted to “oppose the operation of ‘lightweight hyperbaric facilities’ unless and until effective treatments can be delivered safely in facilities staffed by properly trained staff, including the supervision and prescription of a physician and only when the intervention has scientific support or justification. ”
The FDA recommends checking with your healthcare provider before requesting hyperbaric oxygen therapy and using facilities that have been inspected and accredited by the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society.
The consequences of using hyperbaric chambers without proper safety measures can be disastrous.
“When a fire starts in a hyperbaric chamber, it’s less of a fire and more of an explosion,” Lance said.
This story was originally published June 24, 2022 06:00.