Safety

The next steps should flooding disable your fire protection features

Hospital Safety Insider, June 18, 2008

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Recent hospital flooding raises the concern of total power loss in a medical facility.
 
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Healthcare Life Safety Compliance delved into the issue of losing fire protection features should regular and emergency power fail, and we’ve reprinted the major points on our Hospital Safety Center Web site for everyone to read.
 
"In general, fire protection systems are tied to the generator in hospitals," said Jennifer Frecker,a fire protection engineer with Koffel Associates, Inc., in Elkridge, MD. "The generator kicks in to cover the fire alarm, [electrical] fire pump, emergency lighting, and exit signs.”
 
So if the generator stopped working, fire alarms would cease to operate. Although heat might still activate a sprinkler's fusible link, it's possible "there wouldn't be any water pressure to push the water through" if the fire pump is powered by electricity, she said.
 
Facilities with diesel-fueled fire pumps would be able to sidestep generator failure and power sprinkler systems in the event of an electricity outage.
 
If regular, generator, and battery power run out, it is possible to conduct building-wide fire watches, although taking that step involves alerting staff members who are likely focused on saving patient lives, said Mark Cavanaugh, fire marshal at University of Rochester (NY) Strong Memorial Hospital.
 
"All staff become the fire watch," he said, which in some ways is preferable to mechanical smoke detectors. "Humans are more sensitive to smoke than a detector is" and will more quickly notice an odor, he said.
 
During these broad fire watches, all employees need to know that the building's life safety features are inoperable and what staff responsibilities are from that point on. Early detection of problems is a key goal when fire protection systems aren't working, Cavanaugh said.
 
Facility directors and fire marshals need to emphasize that if any worker smells or sees smoke, he or she must immediately alert the hospital's command center, whether via two-way radio, satellite phone, designated runner, or other method, Cavanaugh said.
 
Staff members who are trained to use fire extinguishers should also be ready to take action during a fire watch if necessary.

Also, fire watch plans must specify who will call the fire department and how they will do so if an alarm system is inoperable. For example, a staff member may be designated to contact the fire department by cell or satellite phone if necessary during a fire watch.



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