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Photo by: Tim Freed - A fire in a powered wheelchair has led to an investigation.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Sep. 17, 2015 3 years ago

Powered wheelchair goes up in flames in Winter Park

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Malfunction causes blaze
by: Tim Freed Associate Editor

A faulty electric wheelchair was the culprit in a Winter Park house fire last week, leaving behind melted plastic and questions regarding the safety of certain electric wheelchairs.

Winter Park firefighters arrived on the scene around 1:15 a.m. on Thursday morning, receiving a call from a couple about a fire inside their house along McKean Circle off of Palmer Avenue.

An electric wheelchair had caught fire in a separate room due to an unknown malfunction, causing damage to the home’s kitchen and destroying a nearby sliding glass door. Firefighters were able to put out the fire before it had the chance to spread and the couple made it out safely.

“We’re not sure yet how or why, but the wheelchair caught fire,” White said. “It’s a very lucky situation that [the couple] were able to exit OK.”

White said that while it’s not every day that you see an electric wheelchair go up in flames, any electronic appliance can be at risk of malfunctioning and catching fire.

“Anytime you have electronic equipment, anything can go wrong,” White said. “It’s certainly something we’re going to look further into with the manufacturers of the chair to make sure we’re not dealing with something that’s a product issue.”

But last week’s fire casts light on a disturbing trend of electric wheelchairs going up in flames. A similar incident back in 2008 in the United Kingdom ended in tragedy for resident Denis McKenna, according to the Daily Record. The paper wrote that McKenna’s electric wheelchair, manufactured by Invacare, malfunctioned and caught fire while he was using it, resulting in his death.

A San Antonio man was also burned by a malfunctioning wheelchair in December 2013. San Antonio Fire Department Battalion Chief James Powell said the victim had bought the wheelchair just two months earlier from a flea market, according to My San Antonio.

Trusted Mobility Repair reports that electric wheelchairs typically catch fire due to the battery overheating, usually a result of sustained overuse. But some incidents may have been the fault of manufacturers.

In 2012 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration filed an injunction against medical equipment company Invacare Corp. due to “violations of FDA’s Quality System regulations” and “failures to properly report adverse events to the agency,” requiring them to stop manufacturing manual and powered wheelchair products. The notice of injunction referenced a warning letter from the FDA back in 2010 claiming that Invacare’s bariatric beds had caught fire on multiple occasions.

Pride Mobility Products Corp. has also been named in multiple lawsuits involving wheelchair fires, including a 2007 incident where a 63-year-old California man couldn’t escape his burning wheelchair and passed away.

The Winter Park Fire Department has not yet disclosed what brand of electric wheelchair caused the fire last week.

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