With a large amount of residents physically unable to move themselves, fires are a particular problem for the healthcare industry. Many facilities have been designed to be fireproof, however because burning materials often release toxic vapors fire prevention has and always will be a top priority. All employees can make a difference with fire prevention. With the proper training all healthcare facilities can become much safer institutions.
To help prevent fires employees need to know what starts them. All fires involve three elements: Heat, Fuel and Oxygen. Removing any of these elements will stop a fire. Fires are started with heat as the ignition and heat can be generated by anything that is hot – open flames, chemical reactions, Faulty electrical, overheated equipment and hot surfaces. Once a fire starts it will grow hotter and it will not stop until one of the three elements has been vanquished.
Flames are created by vapors coming off of a flammable material. The temperature at which a material gives off flammable vapors is known as a flashpoint. The flashpoint can change depending on how much oxygen is in the air. For instance an ordinary cleanser that would have a high flashpoint in normal air might be flammable in an area where a patient is being given oxygen.
What fuels a fire determines what will be used to extinguish it. Anesthetic gases can be extinguished by shutting off the gas, however most fires are extinguished by applying a material that eliminates the oxygen or the fuel. Applying the wrong substance can be devastating though. For instance, using water can cause burning liquids to spread and water conducts electricity at electrical fires.
Fires are separated into four classes: A, B, C & D. Class A fires involve normal substances like wood, paper or cardboard. These fires can be extinguished with water. Class B fires are fueled by flammable liquids and gasses. Chemical foams are the best way to extinguish these types of fires. Class C Fires are electrical and involve electrical equipment. They are extinguished by non-conductive agents. Class D fires are fueled by combustible metals. These type of fires are extremely difficult to put out and must be left to professional to take extinguish.
When a fire starts healthcare workers need to act quickly. The best way to insure this is an emergency action plan. The plan will carefully define how to report a fire, who will fight the fire, who is responsible for patient safety, evacuation procedures and lastly care of patients during an emergency.
The R.A.C.E. acronym is an easy way to remember what to do.
The first thing you should do is RESCUE. If anyone is in immediate danger get them out of the room and shut the door. ALARM is next. Make sure the fire alarm is activated and 911 has been called. Thirdly CONFINE the fire. Make sure doors are shut and the flames or smoke won’t spread to other parts of the facility. The last step is EXTINGUISH. If you have been trained to use a fire extinguisher this is the time to use it, but make sure you are not in danger first. Always, evaluate whether you will be safe during the extinguishing process. Never try to put out a fire if you are not trained, the fire has grown too large, or if you have to open the door to where the fire is.
In office and industrial settings all staff is advised to exit immediately during a fire situation, however in healthcare facilities this is not practical. All non-essential personal and visitors are advised to follow posted escape routes, but in most cases patients are “defended” from the fire and not moved. In many cases, moving patients is more dangerous than the fire. When evacuating make sure you NEVER use the elevator, make certain the all doors are cool to the touch and if smoke rises crawl on the floor if necessary.
The best way to fight a fire is to make sure it doesn’t start in the first place. Cigarettes are by far the most common cause of fires in healthcare facilities. Laundry areas, kitchens, storage closets and nurses stations are some of the most common areas for fires to start. You need to be very careful around flammable liquids and in areas where oxygen is being administered.
In conclusion, everyone is an important part of your facilities fire prevention plan. Employee training on fire prevention is crucial and can save lives. Have an emergency plan with clear instructions and make sure all employees know their part in a fire emergency.