Sunday, 11 January 2009

In the event of a fire...

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…


Dr Grumble said...

I have had the fire training several times over but not for some years. Before one job I was given the opportunity to actually put out a fire which was fun.

As a student I had training and I asked the firemen (as they were then called) how to evacuate patients from the tower block we were in. He sort of shrugged. There are ways of strapping patients to mattresses and bumping them down the stairs but it is really not realistic - especially for ITU patients.

I have encountered power failures in operating theatres and seen operations completed by torch light. And I witnessed a pregnant women with a prolapsed cord being carried upstairs with the fetal head being held up because the lift had failed. Or have I made that one up? Over the years strange things do happen.

ThePaddlingDoc said...

I've just come across your blog and have spent the last couple of hours reading back to the start - really enjoyed it!
Im a lowly 1st year medical student Anaesthetist wannabe, So Ive read it with interest - I admire your candour and your obvious love for the job.
All the best! :D

DrJDR said...

We have a fire officer (ex-fireman) who speaks with great relish about the dangers of fire at every induction. Interestingly, fires are quite common in psychiatric hospitals (usually started deliberately) and I've been involved in quite a few cases where this has occurred.

It is interesting however that in spite of this no-one takes any notice of the fire alarms when they go off, even when there is a continuously ringing bell. In the case you describe, perhaps it might have been better to at least prepare to abort the operation as quickly and as safely as possible?

It also reminds me of an incident at school, when we were in the middle of a complicated chemistry experiment. The alarms went off, and the teacher ordered us to stay put and continue with the experiment. This continued despite seeing the whole school lining up in the playing fields outside, and the sound of sirens approaching down the road. The deputy head was heard to make some curt remarks to our teacher, but luckily for him it turned out to be a false alarm.

Most (especially older) hospitals would find a full scale fire a total disaster, with large-scale loss of life. In many ways it is surprising that this does not happen more often.

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