Oxygen-Supply Crews Hit the Road

By: Sabrina Wu
By: Sabrina Wu

While Wisconsin Public Service crews were hurrying to get the electricity back on for thousands of people in the Northwoods, oxygen-supply companies were working just as fast to get to their customers who couldn't wait that long.

"I kinda panicked," said Richard Clark, a Tomahawk resident who lost power during the ice storms the week of April 13. 20,000 people did not have electricity at the peak of the severe weather.

The difference, however, is that Clark has severe lung problems and requires oxygen. He says he is grateful the company cared enough to call to check on him.

"You could die and nobody'd know about it if they didn't have somebody to take care of you," Clark said.

"We had up to around 20 [who lost power] in our complete territory," said Ed Blotnicki, a driver and technician for Apria Healthcare, a company which offers home respiratory products and services. "It is very important to get to them quickly because without electricity, the oxygen concentrators do not work."

Based in Minocqua, the company has patients in Tomahawk, Rhinelander and Eagle River, all of which were hit hard by the freezing rain. Fortunately, however, Blotnicki says crews did not have too much trouble getting to patients after the recent storms. He remembers a time about seven years ago, when he had had to spend 17 hours on the road the day after widespread freezing rain.

Most patients who need to stay on oxygen 24-hours a day will have a backup tank that does not require electricity. One of the larger tanks can hold 3,454 liters of compressed air that can be released at a constant flow rate. Depending on a patient's flow rate, these tanks can release up to 24 hours of breathable oxygen.

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