Hospitals and other healthcare facilities present unique challenges when it comes to fire safety. Not only can numerous vulnerable members of the population essentially find themselves living there for an unspecified amount of time, meaning meals must be cooked and the rooms must be kept warm, but they also house all kinds of combustible and electronic equipment that we don’t find just anywhere. This is why safety protocols and procedures are a must in the healthcare world.
Fire hazards in a healthcare facility can be found in nearly every corner. Still, with the right preventative measures, these hazards don’t have to lead to fires any more devastating than those that occur in any other structures. Let’s look at some essential aspects of fire and safety management in hospitals and how they minimize the risk and improve response in the case a fire breaks out at your facility.
Common fire hazards in a healthcare facility
While there are a lot of fire hazards to be found in healthcare facilities, there are specific areas where fires are more likely to start than others. By identifying and monitoring these areas, we can be ready for any potential fires and stop them before they spread.
Unsurprisingly, one of the leading causes of fire in hospitals is the kitchen. In fact, the peak times for fires in healthcare facilities occur at the same times as kitchen staff prepares meals for patients and practitioners. Most fires are confined to the area or appliance where they start, but you don’t want to be the facility to face a fire that spreads.
The hazards in healthcare facility kitchens are no different than they would be in a home or restaurant, but in this case, people are cooking on a large scale in a building that houses hundreds of people or more. It’s very important to develop and always follow safety protocols in the kitchen.
- Keep flammable oils away from cooking areas.
- Keep all cooking equipment clean. This includes grills, fryers, and cookware.
- Make sure grease traps are emptied and cleaned regularly.
- Keep appropriate fire extinguishers charged and easily accessible.
Another common source of hospital fires is electrical equipment. This could be due to anything from a malfunctioning piece of equipment to an overloaded socket. It’s important to take inventory of your electrical equipment from time to time to make sure everything is in proper working order.
- Make sure all cords and plugs are in good condition.
- Replace any frayed wires or broken plugs.
- Make sure none of your outlets is overloaded with numerous plugs.
- Don’t run wires under rugs or carpeting or anywhere someone could step on them.
- Replace any electrical equipment that doesn’t work properly, including things that produce sparks, smoke, or odors.
Smoking is a leading cause of fires in all residential settings but can be especially dangerous in hospital and healthcare settings. Any time combustible gases like oxygen are in use, it’s incredibly important to smoke as far away from them as possible. Unfortunately, some of your patients may be lifelong smokers and unwilling to stop just because they’ve landed themselves in the hospital. You must find a way to safely address this eventuality.
The vast majority of healthcare facilities these days outright ban smoking on the property, but if you’ve got patients who aren’t willing to abide by the rules, you may need to create a smoking area for them. If you’re going to designate a smoking area, make sure that it is far away from the building and nowhere near any oxygen tanks. Install a tip-resistant ashtray in the designated area to ensure no butts can make their way into any place where they present a risk.
Fire prevention in hospitals
Knowing where fires are likely to start is helpful, but if you don’t do anything to prevent fires in those areas, that knowledge doesn’t do you any good. Both active and passive fire protection measures are an important part of keeping healthcare facilities safe.
Compartmentation is an example of passive fire protection. Put simply, healthcare facilities are built to contain any fires to the area where they start. Fire compartmentation in hospitals is accomplished by dividing the facility into multiple subdivisions, separated by fire-resistant walls and flooring and fire doors and windows.
These materials help contain and prevent the spread of smoke and flames and limit the spread and damage caused by structural fires. Fire doors must be able to withstand fires for a specified amount of time and prevent flames, smoke, and hazardous gases from passing to the next area.
Sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers
When we talk about active fire protection systems, we are talking about things like sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers. These devices can be actively used to put fires out once they have started.
Fire sprinkler systems turn on automatically and can reduce the damage done by fire by up to 90%. They are effective not only because they apply water directly to the fire but also to the surrounding areas, slowing the spread of the fire. If you need more direct fire fighting capability, working fire extinguishers are one of the most effective, active fire protection tools we have.
Responding to fires in healthcare facilities
If a fire does happen to break out in your facility, it’s important that your staff understands the procedures necessary to evacuate people and extinguish fires as quickly as possible.
Develop an action plan
If you’ve ever taken a hospital fire safety course, you may be familiar with the acronym RACE. It’s a very common fire safety protocol in the healthcare world, and it stands for Rescue, Alarm, Confine and Extinguish/Evacuate. Knowing and following these steps could mean the difference between loss of property and loss of life, so make sure everyone knows how to respond in the case of fires.
- Rescue – Rescue anyone who needs immediate help to escape the fire. Only attempt this step if you can do so safely.
- Alarm – Sound the fire alarm as soon as you’ve removed people from immediate danger so that firefighters get to the fire and help out as soon as possible.
- Confine – Confine the flames whenever possible. Close any windows and doors to prevent the spread and reduce the amount of oxygen the fire can use for fuel.
- Extinguish/Evacuate – If the fire is small enough, you can attempt to extinguish it yourself before firefighters arrive. If you can’t extinguish the fire safely, evacuate yourself and others so the professionals can handle it.
Remember, no loss of property is worth your safety. If you can’t safely extinguish the fire yourself, leave the area immediately. Also, regular participation in hospital fire safety training courses will help you know the difference between a fire you can suppress and one you can’t. Stay informed, and stay safe.
Designate a safety officer
When there’s a fire in a hospital, procedures and prevention are equally important. Make sure someone is accountable to both. Train a designated safety officer who inspects fire-prone equipment and areas for safety on a regular basis. Fire hazards in a healthcare facility can pop up quickly, so this must be routine.
Your designated safety officer should also be well versed in all the safety procedures your facility has in place and able to train others in the proper response to fires in the facility. While each facility may have unique protocols when it comes to fires, the safety officer should train employees on crucial safety steps.
- Locations of fire alarms and how to use them
- Locations and operation of oxygen and compressed gas shutoff valves
- Fire evacuation safety tips and routes
- Make sure these locations are kept free of clutter and easily accessible.
Train your personnel in proper fire extinguisher usage
If you’re going to attempt to use a fire extinguisher, it’s important that you know how to use a fire extinguisher. The device itself does you no good if used incorrectly, so everyone must understand the steps to make the best use of it. The acronym PASS will help all personnel remember the correct steps. PASS stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep.
- Pull – The first thing you must do is pull the pin. The pin is the safety mechanism that prevents the extinguisher from activating prior to use. Once it’s removed, the extinguisher is ready to use.
- Aim – It’s essential to aim a fire extinguisher properly. You should aim at the base of the fire, so you can cover and smother whatever is fueling the fire. Aiming directly at the flames can do more harm than good, as it can actually spread the fire further.
- Squeeze – Now that you’ve got the extinguisher armed and aimed, it’s time to squeeze the trigger, allowing the fire extinguishing agent to flow through the hose and onto the fire’s fuel.
- Sweep – Remember to use a sweeping motion when applying the agent to the flames. If you keep it aimed in one place, you may run out of agent before the fire is extinguished. Cover enough area to extinguish the flame and keep it from spreading to nearby fuel sources.
Set yourself up for success
The more we learn and reinforce the lessons we’ve learned, the more the proper course of action becomes automatic. By understanding how to evaluate and respond to fire hazards in a healthcare facility, we can keep patients and healthcare personnel safe and ensure everyone in the community has a place to heal when misfortune strikes.