One of the things that we were told on induction day was what the fire alarms meant. Fire safety in hospitals is second to none, and not really a day-to-day concern for people working within the hospital. Fires in hospitals are so rare that when they do happen, they tend to make the news. I’ve never been in a hospital when a fire has started and, judging by the words of a man who has, hope I never will be.
On that first day, they told us that an intermittent alarm means that there is potentially a fire in an area of the hospital adjacent to where you are. Hospitals have big, strong fire doors, so this alarm shouldn’t cause too much concern. On the other hand, a continuous alarm means there’s potentially a fire in the area in which you are in, and these should be taken much more seriously.
On Friday afternoon, the fire alarm went off. A very loud, continuous alarm sounded right outside the theatre we were operating in. What can you do? The surgeon and I looked at each other and shrugged and carried on the operation. As the alarm continued, it occurred to me that if there really was a fire nearby, it probably wasn’t the best idea to sit right next to a machine receiving 100% oxygen compressed to four times atmospheric pressure.
In the end, nothing exciting happened as it turned out to be a false alarm. The firemen turned up (which a couple of the nurses found very exciting) and peace was restored. The incident did make me think long and hard about what exactly would I have done if the theatre had started filling up with smoke…