Hospital staff members praised for rapid and effective response to fire

People wait outside Timaru Hospital during the incident.
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/FAIRFAX NZ

People wait outside Timaru Hospital during the incident.

Hospital staff members have been praised for their rapid and effective response to a fire in the sterilising unit in Timaru Hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU) on Monday afternoon. 

Fire crews from Washdyke, Timaru, and Temuka were called to the scene, late on Monday morning, after reports of the electrical fire at the top of the building.

Southern Fire Communications shift manager Riwai Grace said the fire was contained in a sterilising unit, and had been put out with a fire extinguisher.

Fire crews were called to a fire in Timaru Hospital's Intensive Care Unit on Monday.
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/FAIRFAX NZ

Fire crews were called to a fire in Timaru Hospital's Intensive Care Unit on Monday.

Crews then ventilated the area, Grace said.

South Canterbury District Health Board director of clinical services and chief medical officer Dr Steve Earnshaw said the fire was quickly extinguished by a member of staff who then called for help. 

"We are very proud of the way our staff have managed the incident."

The fire was identified by a staff member of the ICU, who had put the fire out with a fire extinguisher and then called the fire service, Earnshaw said. 

Four patients in the ICU ward had been moved across to the surgical ward, he said. 

"The response was very rapid and effective." 

The ICU ward was dirty and contaminated with smoke and would need to be cleaned before patients were returned, but by Monday afternoon the hospital had returned to normal function, with the exception of the ICU ward, Earnshaw said. 

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There were "arrangements in place with our neighbours" at the Canterbury District Health Board and Southern District Health Board, in case ICU patients did have to be transferred, "otherwise everything is carrying on as normal", he said. 

Mid and South Canterbury Fire Risk manager Murray Cairns said it was especially important "looking at whats happened in the UK" recently that staff knew their evacuation protocol for thier patients and themselves and also knew how to use a fire extinguisher if need be. 

He said all extinguishers had instructions on how to use them and if staff felt confident using a fire extinguisher then that was recommended.

Cairns said "the beauty of our protocol" was that all staff in workplaces bigger than 10 people must be trained on their workplaces evacuation scheme, and on what to do in a emergency and where to meet. 

It was "lucky" the fire had not been any worse but if it had been then sprinklers would have helped to put out the flames as well. 

He said if using a fire extinguisher was not an option people should "just get out and shut the door" and call the fire service. 

Meanwhile one Timaru resident was ready to tie sheets together to escape out a window if need be after the unit caught fire.

Timaru resident Celia Warren-Shrimpton was visiting the hospital, to collect a family member from the third floor, when the fire alarm went off.

She said she and another woman, on the third floor, had hatched a plan to evacuate the building if need be. 

"I said 'come on, let's get all these sheets knotted together and do a Rapunzel and tie them together and get out the window.

"I would have, I'm a country girl, I would have done that, and then got the oldies up, tied them on with a zimmerframe or something.

"We would have got them out, we would have had to smash a window. I mean, that's just over-dramatising but you have to get those plans to the front of your thoughts. You never know when you're going to really need them." 

"What we thought was just a practice drill actually became a bit of a reality."

Warren-Shrimpton said she was "pretty scared".

"Especially after what's just happened in London, I took it a wee bit seriously ... but we were staying pretty calm. I knew we'd be well looked after". 

No one was allowed to leave the room they were in, Warren-Shrimpton said.

A nurse had informed them of the fire upstairs and alarms could be heard going off and fire crews could be seen arriving below the room she was in, she said.​

 - Stuff

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