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Hospital Fire Kills Four Patients, Southside Regional Medical Center,

Petersburg, Virginia, December 1994

 

United States Fire AdministrationTechnical Report SeriesHospital Fire Kills Four
PatientsSouthside Regional Medical CenterPetersburg, VirginiaFederal Emergency Management AgencyUnited States Fire Administration

United States Fire Administration Fire Investigations ProgramThe United States Fire Administration develops reports on selected major fires throughout thecountry. The fires usually involve multiple deaths or a large loss of property. But the primary criterion fordeciding to do a report is whether it will result in significant “lessons learned.” In some cases these lessonsbring to light new knowledge about fire -- the effect of building construction or contents, human behavior infire, etc. In other cases, the lessons are not new but are serious enough to highlight once again, with yetanother fire tragedy report.The reports are sent to fire magazines and are distributed at national and regional fire meetings.The International Association of Fire Chiefs assists USFA in disseminating the findings throughout the fireservice. On a continuing basis the reports are available on request from USFA; announcements of theiravailability are published widely in fire journals and newsletters.This body of work provides detailed information on the nature of the fire problem for policymakerswho must decide on allocations of resources between fire and other pressing problems, and within the fireservice to improve codes and code enforcement, training, public fire education, building technology, andother related areas.The Fire Administration, which has no regulatory authority, sends an experienced fire investigatorinto a community after a major incident only after having conferred with the local fire authorities to insurethat USFA’s assistance and presence would be supportive and would in no way interfere with any review ofthe incident they are themselves conducting. The intent is not to arrive during the event or even immediatelyafter, but rather after the dust settles, so that a complete and objective review of all the important aspects ofthe incident can be made. Local authorities review USFA’s report while it is in draft. The USFAinvestigator or team is available to local authorities should they wish to request technical assistance for theirown investigation.This report and its recommendations were developed by USFA staff and by TriData Corporation,Arlington, Virginia, its staff and consultants, who are under contract to assist the Fire Administration incarrying out the Fire Reports Program.The United States Fire Administration greatly appreciates the cooperation received from Fire ChiefJerry Wallace, Investigator Rufus L. Atkins, and Investigator David M. Jolly of the Petersburg, VirginiaBureau of Fire; and Robert A. Phelps, Director of Safety and Security at Southside Regional Medical Center.For additional copies of this report write to the United States Fire Administration, 16825 SouthSeton Avenue, Emmitsburg, Maryland 21727.

Hospital Fire Kills Four PatientsSouthside Regional Medical CenterPetersburg, Virginia(December 31, 1994)Investigated by: J. Gordon RoutleyReade BushThis is Report 080 of the Major Fires Investigation Project conductedby Varley-Campbell and Associates, Inc./TriData Corporation undercontract EMW-94-C-4423 to the United States Fire Administration,Federal Emergency Management Agency.Federal Emergency Management AgencyUnited States Fire Administration

Investigated by:Local Contacts:Hospital Fire Kills Four PatientsSouthside Regional Medical CenterPetersburg, VirginiaDecember 31, 1994Reade BushJ. Gordon RoutleyFire Investigator/Inspector Rufus L. AtkinsFire Investigator/Inspector David M. JollyPetersburg Bureau of Fire400 East Washington StreetPetersburg, Virginia 23803(804) 733-2409OVERVIEWOn December 31, 1994, a New Year’s Eve fire at the SouthsideRegional Medical Center (SRMC) in Petersburg, Virginia, killed fourpatients and injured three firefighters and several nurses.’ The fire wasthe worst in terms of number of lives lost in a single incident in Petersburgin recent memory.The fire originated in a patient room on the fourth floor of thehospital shortly after 9 p.m. Local investigators believe that smokingmaterials were involved in the ignition and that the fire resulted from thepatient’s actions. They could not determine if the actions which caused thefire were accidental or intentional. The fire grew rapidly due partly to thefuel load in the fire room. A nurse discovered the fire but was unable toextinguish it.The fire was contained to the room of origin with slight extensioninto the adjacent corridor. There was heavy smoke and heat damage tothe corridor, and heavy smoke infiltrated adjacent patient rooms (see1Two other patients, who were on the fire floor but not in rooms on the corridor of origin,died within several weeks after the fire. At the time of this report, it was unknown whethertheir deaths were from natural causes or resulted from exposure to smoke

Appendix A for floor diagram). Hospital staff and nurses rescued severalpatients before firefighters arrived. Three patients in rooms adjacent tothe fire room died from smoke inhalation, and one patient in the fire roomdied from a combination of smoke inhalation and burns. Three firefighterswere treated for minor smoke inhalation after their breathing apparatusran out of air during rescue operations. Several nurses and patients alsosuffered minor injuries from smoke inhalation.The section of the hospital that was involved in this incident hadsmoke detectors in the corridors and manually activated fire alarm stations.Other parts of the hospital complex were protected by automatic sprinklers.Firefighters extinguished the fire with one 1 3/4-inch handline
stretchedfrom a standpipe.SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUESFire CauseIssuesCommentsPatient smoking in bed was the mostlikely cause of the fire. Patient failed tocomply with hospital no smoking policy.The hospital staff was unable to searchthe patient’s belongings after smokingmaterials were discovered in the roomdue to patient privacy rights.Compartmentation EffectivenessFailed because door to room of originwas left open. Smoke and heat spreadinto the corridor.Sprinkler SystemFire LoadNone in area involved in this incident.Heavy fire load in patient rooms,including highly combustible foam/plasticpatient bedding.Smoke SpreadRapid spread of heavy smoke into thecorridor through the open door. Smokespread to adjacent rooms through theplenum space and through cracksbetween doors and door frames, eventhough the doors to patient rooms wereclosed

SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUESIssuesEvacuation of PatientsCommentsMany patients were unable to evacuatewithout assistance.Alarm System PerformanceManual pull station activated promptlyafter discovery.Construction CodeAppears to comply with code that was ineffect when built and fire resistiveconstruction appears to have beenmaintained fairly well. Some fireresistive features failed early in fire.Leakage of 100 % Oxygen intoRoom of OriginSmoke Detection SystemSmoke Control DoorsAppears to have contributed to the rateof combustion in the room of origin.None in patient rooms; only in corridor.Released to close by alarm system.Contained heavy smoke to one corridor.Structural DamageColumns and major beams undamaged.Some light beams and metal deckingslightly warped.Response by Hospital StaffPrompt and efficient in most regards.Failure to close door to room of originwas a significant factor.Response by Fire DepartmentPrompt response and extinguishmentsaved lives of some trapped patients.Hospital Fire Evacuation PlanHospital staff conducted regular drillsand Drillsand safety awareness training.LOCATIONThe SRMC is located in Petersburg, Virginia, a city of 40,000people located approximately 25 miles south of Richmond, Virginia.Petersburg is an historic city in an area that is considered a suburb ofRichmond.

The Petersburg Fire Department is a career department with 86members operating- out of four stations. Nineteen firefighters are assignedon each shift to staff four engine companies and one ladder company. ABattalion Chief supervises each shift. Emergency medical services areprovided primarily by volunteer rescue squads; however, the FireDepartment provides first responder medical care and operates oneambulance. The department responds to approximately 3,200 calls peryear. It has established mutual aid agreements with several neighboringjurisdictions.HOSPITAL DESCRIPTION AND FIRE CONTROL SYSTEMSThe original parts of the hospital were constructed in the early1950s. Since then several additions and renovations have taken place,adding a variety of construction types and fire control systems to thefacility. The main hospital is a 468 bed, seven story building with threewings (see Appendix A).The entire hospital is equipped with a combination smoke detectionand manual pull station alarm system. In some areas, smoke detectors areinstalled in patient rooms; other areas have smoke detectors only in thecorridors. The emergency department, which was recently renovated, isprotected by an automatic sprinkler system. A Class 3 standpipe systemserves all floors; outlets for fire department hose lines are located in hosecabinets in the corridors.The seven story south wing of the hospital was renovated in 1974. Itis a T-shape with three corridors extending out from a nurses’ station andelevator lobby. Smoke control doors were installed at the opening of eachcorridor to provide a separation from the lobby. The doors, which arenormally open, are automatically released to close upon activation of thebuilding fire alarm system. An enclosed exit stairway is located at the endof each corridor. On the fourth floor, the T-shaped area referred to as 4-South includes 27 patient rooms. The room where the fire originated is onthe south corridor of the 4-South wing, which contains rooms 411 through421. Each of the patient rooms in this area is equipped for two patients,however, at the time of the fire most of the rooms were occupied by onlyone patient each.

Construction Details - When the south wing was renovated in 1974,it was required to meet the BOCA building code.2 The construction ofthe south wing is classified as “protected non-combustible.” Thefloor/ceiling system incorporates a concrete floor slab supported by steelbar joists. The steel decking and other structural steel members areprotected by a suspended ceiling. The suspended ceiling is part of therated fire resistive assembly, and clips were required to keep the ceilingtiles in place.The interior partitions are gypsum wall board on metal < studs.Above the suspended ceiling, there was a 3 foot plenum space3 containingwiring, ducts, and oxygen pipes. The plenum space is common above thepatient rooms on each side of the corridor. The walls that separate therooms from the corridor extend through the plenum to the underside of themetal decking of the floor above. The patient rooms could be consideredapproximately
equivalent to a one hour fire-rated compartment, if theroom door is closed and the ceiling is in place. Each patient room alsohad an exterior plateglass window.There were dampers activated by heat and smoke detectors in theair handling ducts in the plenum space. The air handling system suppliedfresh air to the corridors and each room but there was no return air systemin the south wing. Heat activated dampers were installed at the pointwhere each duct penetrated the corridor walls above the ceiling to supplyair to a single outlet in each room. Air was removed continuously by fanslocated in each patient bathroom.The south wing is served by three elevators located near the nurses’station. There were three additional elevators on the north wing of thehospital.Fire Alarm System Details - There were two smoke detectors in eachcorridor of 4-South, but no detectors in the patient rooms. There were twomanual pull alarm stations on the south corridor. Activation of the firealarm system released the smoke control doors and sounded an alarmthroughout the hospital. The doors to individual patient rooms did not2At the time of the 1974 renovation of 4-South, the wing was constructed to the BOCAbuilding code, which makes reference to certain NFPA fire codes including NFPA 99, Standardfur Health Care Facilities. The BOCA code does not reference NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.3The plenum space is the area between the suspended ceiling and the next floor.

have self-closing devices and did not close automatically when an alarmwas sounded. The 4-South wing was not equipped with an automaticsprinkler system. A hose cabinet supplied by a Class 3 standpipe riser waslocated in each corridor.The hospital’s fire control room is located in the security office onthe ground floor. All alarms are monitored from this location. Fourseparate fire alarm systems were installed as different parts of the hospitalwere added or renovated. The fire alarm system had a manual switch withthe options of direct connection to a central alarm monitoring service orlocal monitoring only, but it was not connected to a third party centralmonitoring station at the time of the fire. The hospital had decided tomonitor the alarm locally due to a false alarm problem. In lieu of a firedepartment response, the normal practice was to have a security guardrespond to the activation point to determine if there was an actualemergency before calling the fire department. In this case, a nurse from 4-South notified the hospital switchboard operator via telephone that therewas an actual fire, and the switchboard operator notified the firedepartment. The operator also announced over a hospital wide publicaddress system that “Plan F,” the plan for a working fire, was in effect.The activated alarm sounded throughout the entire hospital.Fuel Load - The fuel load in the room of origin, which measured10 feet by 12 feet, was typical for the rooms in that section of the hospital.It included:Two patient bedsOne dresser and one bedside food table made of laminatedfiberboardTwo small wooden closets affixed to the wallTwo reclining chairs covered with foam plastic materialTwo divider curtains made of a synthetic fiberOne plastic wastebasketA 19-inch
televisionWindow curtainsThe two patient beds were relatively newly designed “air beds.” Each bedincorporated an inflatable mattress and sophisticated control system. Themattress is constructed with inflatable air chambers that can be inflated ordeflated to adjust to the needs and comfort of each patient. An electricallyoperated compressor and pressure controls were mounted in the frame of the bed. Each inflatable mattress was believed to contain between 15 to 20pounds of foam plastic materials.The fire room also contained some additional objects such as apatient’s suitcase and clothing.At some point during the fire, the oxygen regulator on the wall inthe room of origin melted and may have released a flow of 100 percentoxygen into the room for a short period until it was shut off. After the firethe damaged regulator was tested and was determined to release oxygen atan undetermined rate. The oxygen flow was stopped when a maintenanceworker closed the central oxygen valve approximately three to five minutesafter the alarm sounded, but before the fire department arrived on thefourth floor.CAUSE OF FIREInvestigators determined that the fire originated in Room 418. Thepatient in Room 418 had been given sedatives to reduce her level ofagitation. Nurses had restrained the patient in bed because she hadwandered out of the room on at least two occasions that day and was beingdisruptive to other patients on the floor. The patient broke out of therestraints several times.The origin of the fire was determined to be the upper half of thepatient’s bed. After a thorough investigation, the investigators ruled outother possible causes and determined the cause to be the patient smokingin bed or attempting to use matches or a lighter. They were unable toconclusively determine if the fire was caused by a cigarette or a match.The sudden onset of smoke and fire suggests an open flame ignition asopposed to a smoldering ignition which is more often associated with acigarette. No smoke or fire was noticed when nurses were restraining thepatient approximately 10 minutes before the fire was detected. At the timeof ignition, the patient may have broken free of the restraints or hadenough slack to reach her smoking materials.DISCOVERY OF THE FIRE AND NOTIFICATION OF THEFIRE DEPARTMENTThe fire at Southside Regional Medical Center occurred on NewYear’s Eve 1994, which was a Saturday night. At that time, there
were sixnurses assigned to 4-South. All of the 11 patient rooms on the southPage corridor were occupied, with one patient assigned to all but two of therooms. Several relatives were visiting the patient in Room 417. Thepatients on 4-South were categorized as general nursing care and ranged inage from the mid-40s to late 70s. The age and medical problems of certainpatients prevented them from being able to evacuate without assistance;several patients on the south corridor were able to evacuate on their own.A nurse discovered the fire shortly after 9 p.m. She was alerted byscreams from the patient in the room. The nurse opened the door to theroom and found the upper half of the bed and the patient on fire.Following emergency procedures, the nurse immediately activated amanual pull station on the south corridor which sounded an audible alarmthroughout the hospital.The fire was reported to the Petersburg 911 Communications Centerby several different sources almost simultaneously. The first 911 call camefrom a patient on 4-South at 21: 11:30 (see Appendix B for the completetime log of the incident). Seconds later, at 21: 11:36, an attendant4 from aChesterfield County ambulance which was at the hospital called thePetersburg Communications Center to report that there was fire showingout of a fourth floor window. At 21: 11:45, a 911 call was received from thehospital switchboard.At 21: 12:45, a Petersburg police officer, who was in the hospitalwhen the alarm sounded, arrived on 4-South and radioed to theCommunications Center that there was fire.It is unknown exactly when the fire started. Due to the variances inclocks at the different reporting points and the lack of any recorded timesfrom the hospital’s alarm system, an exact timelog of the fire is difficult toreconstruct. The timelog in Appendix B was developed by localinvestigators. When the fire was reported by the Chesterfield Countyambulance attendant at 21: 11: 36, the fire was already at a free burningphase visible through a fourth floor window.INITIAL ACTIONS BY HOSPITAL PERSONNELThe nurse who discovered the fire was alerted by screams from thepatient in Room 418. The nurse opened the door to the room and saw fireinvolving the upper portion of the bed and the patient. She exited the4The Chesterfield County ambulance attendant was an off-duty Petersburg firefighter.room, yelled “Fire, “and then activated a manual pull station on the southcorridor, which sounded an alarm throughout the entire hospital. Thenurse re-entered the room and attempted to smother the fire with ablanket but was forced outside due to smoke conditions. Knowing that thepatient in Room 418 was placed in a four point restraint system, she re-entered the room to attempt to free the patient by cutting the straps, butshe was only able to cut one strap before being forced out of the room bythe smoke.Some of the other nurses began closing doors to patient rooms andevacuating some of the patients from rooms near the room of origin.Several nurses took fire extinguishers to the room of origin, but the rapidlyincreasing volume of fire prevented them from entering the room and usingthe extinguishers.Several hospital personnel responded to the report of a fire on 4-South according to the hospital’s emergency response plan. Immediatelyafter the alarm was activated, one nurse telephoned the hospitalswitchboard to report the fire. The switchboard operator was thenresponsible for contacting the Fire Department and announcing the “PlanF”
(the actual fire plan) over the public address system, which activatedemergency procedures throughout the hospital.Hospital personnel did not close the door to the room of originwhich allowed smoke to fill the corridor very quickly. The nurses managedto either evacuate or close the door to each of the other rooms thatopened to the south corridor. Within a few minutes after discovery of thefire, smoke conditions were so bad that the last nurse leaving the corridorhad to crawl out. One nurse attempted valiantly to drag a patient out ofRoom 421, but she was forced to leave the patient in the room and closethe door because of the rapidly deteriorating conditions in the corridor.Several patients were evacuated by nurses to stairwell number one, but therapidly deteriorating conditions in the corridor prevented them from beingable to evacuate all of the patients.A guard and a maintenance worker who responded to the fourthfloor after hearing the alarm encountered moderate smoke in the maincorridor and very heavy smoke in the 4-South elevator lobby. Theyattempted to enter the elevator lobby area several times but were forced toretreat behind the protection of smoke control doors. The maintenanceworker reached the doors separating the south corridor from the nurses’station but was forced to retreat. He was able to shut off the centraloxygen valve in the elevator lobby area.

This worker estimated that hearrived on 4-South three minutes after the alarm was activated. Hereported that the smoke conditions prevented him from seeing the end ofthe corridor (approximately 75 feet away).A doctor also responded to the floor and assisted the patients whowere being evacuated into the stairwell. He and nurses not directlyinvolved in the initial evacuation assisted later with treatment of patientswho were rescued by firefighters.INITIAL FIRE DEPARTMENT RESPONSE ANDFIRST ALARM ACTIONSThe Petersburg Communications Center initially dispatched a fullfirst alarm structural assignment which included Engine 2, Engine 4, Truck1, an ambulance, and a Battalion Chief at 21: 12 (see Appendix C for alarmassignments). The Chesterfield County ambulance radioed the respondingPetersburg Battalion Chief that this was a working fire with flames comingfrom a window. The Battalion Chief requested a second alarm before anyof the first alarm units arrived. The second alarm response includedEngine 5 and Engine 3, the last two Petersburg units, plus a ladder truckon mutual aid from Chesterfield County. Three Battalion Chiefs and oneDistrict Chief from Chesterfield County also responded. (Additional unitswere requested on special alarms later. Refer to Appendix C for acomplete list of units that responded to the fire,)The first arriving Petersburg units went to their assigned positionsoutside of the hospital, based on the pre-fire plan. Engine 2, the first duecompany, arrived at 21: 15 : 33 at the main entrance on the west side. All ofthe first alarm units arrived within one minute of each other.The objective of Engine 2 was to locate the fire and to initiateinterior rescues and fire attack. Arriving at the main entrance on the westside, the crew could not see the fire coming from the fire room, which wason the east side. The building alarm system was sounding when twofirefighters from Engine 2 entered the hospital.The second arriving company, Engine 4, went to the east side,connected to a hydrant, and supplied water to one of the hospital’s threestandpipe connections.Truck 1 positioned on the south side of the hospital. Twofirefighters from

Truck 1 entered the hospital to assist Engine 2. Twoother firefighters from Truck 1 set up a ground ladder to rescue the patientfrom Room 416 who was leaning out of the window. Due to the design ofthe building, the truck could not be positioned to rescue the individual withits aerial ladder. The rescue was made using a 28 foot ladder which wasraised from the roof of a one-story section of the hospital, below thewindow.Unit 530, Petersburg Battalion Chief Steve Bowling, established acommand post on the east side of the hospital at 21: 16:05. For the initialminutes, the Incident Commander’s priority was to ascertain the magnitudeof the fire, determine what rescues would be necessary, and find out if thefire was extending to other parts of the fourth floor.Engine 2 reported that the alarm panel indicated an activation of amanual pull station on 4-South. Engine 2’s crew then ascended stairwellnumber one (see Appendix A) to the fourth floor. When the crew reachedthe fourth floor, they were met by patients and hospital personnel who hadbeen evacuated to the stairwell. They entered the main corridor on thefourth floor and noticed moderate smoke conditions. The crew put ontheir SCBAs and opened the first set of smoke control doors. Just beyondthe doors, they connected a 1 3/4-inch attack line into the Class 3standpipe connection in the corridor5. The firefighters then crawled to thenext set of smoke control doors and opened them to find heavy, blacksmoke, zero visibility conditions, and intense heat. At 21: 18:40, Engine 2radioed to the Incident Commander that they were in the south corridorlooking for the fire.As Engine 2 proceeded down the corridor looking for the fire, theysearched rooms and rescued patients. They rescued at least one patientbefore attacking the fire. When they reached Room 418, the room wasfully involved with fire spreading out into the corridor. Engine 2 appliedwater to the fire at 21 :24,6 12 minutes after dispatch of the call, and onlynine minutes after their arrival on the scene. They were able to gaincontrol of the fire very quickly with one attack line.5The 1 3/4-inch attack line was attached to a 50 foot, 2 l/2-inch leader line with a gatedwye.621:24 is the time that the Incident Commander reported via radio that he could see waterbeing applied to the fire from his vantage point outside the hospital.Engine 2 and two firefighters from Truck 1

then completed aprimary search of the rooms on 4-South. They removed the patients fromrooms 417,419, and 421, all of whom died from smoke inhalation. Severalother patients who survived were also evacuated by firefighters. Theevacuated patients were carried from their rooms to the stairwell and tounaffected parts of the fourth floor where they were triaged and treated.The firefighters were using 30 minute SCBA units, and in the courseof rescue operations, some of them ran out of air, but many continued toperform rescues because of their concern that the patients must beremoved and treated rapidly. Three firefighters suffered smoke inhalationin the rescue process.Crews from the second alarm units were assigned to check for fireextension on the fifth floor and to remove smoke from the corridors.Rapid smoke removal was important because the longer the smokeremained in the corridors, the more it was sucked through openings aroundthe closed doors to occupied patient rooms.There was no vertical extension of the fire above the fourth floor;however, the radiant heat on the fifth floor was very noticeable. Theconcrete floor slab above the fire area remained very hot for some timeafter the fire. There was a moderate amount of smoke on the fifth floor,with heaviest concentrations in the 5-South area directly above the fire.The second alarm crews also evacuated patients from 5-South and otherareas of the hospital affected by smoke conditions. They were assisted byhospital staff.SMOKE AND HEAT SPREADAlthough the fire was contained to the room of origin with minorextension into the corridor, heavy smoke and heat conditions made the 4-South corridor and the lobby area around the nurses’ station untenablewithin several minutes after discovery of the fire.The extent of the smoke and heat conditions was evident after thefire. Heavy smoke stains were evident to within two feet of the floor onthe south corridor. The smoke detectors and other plastic fixtures in thecorridor melted. The smoke control doors separating the south corridorfrom the nurses’ station protected the rest of the floor from major smokeand heat damage. Witnesses reported that there was heavy smoke in thearea of the nurses’ station and elevator lobby during the incident, possiblyPage 13

from the opening of the smoke control doors as patients were evacuatedfrom the south corridor.Smoke and heat damage to patient rooms on the south corridorvaried significantly. Rooms 411 and 421 suffered heavy smoke damage,indicated by major soot stains on the walls and windows, because the doorsto these rooms were open during the fire. The door to Room 411 was notclosed by nurses because they had rescued the patient from this room andknew it was empty. The door to Room 421 was closed by nurses, but thepatient apparently opened it while trying to escape and collapsed in thedoorway.There was some evidence of smoke leakage between the doors anddoor frames from the corridor into all of the patient rooms. The rooms onthe same side of the corridor as the fire room, i.e. Rooms 416 to 421,appear to have been much more heavily charged with smoke during thefire, while the rooms on the opposite side of the corridor appear to havesuffered less smoke damage.There was evidence of significant smoke spread into Rooms 416 to421 via the common plenum space above the rooms. This was indicated bysoot streaks on many of the ceiling panels, indicating that heavy smoke wasleaking into the rooms via gaps between the ceiling panels and thesuspension system. The ceiling above the fire failed, allowing smoke andheat to enter the plenum area. The smoke then leaked down through theceilings, under pressure, into the adjacent rooms. The heat damaged someof the lightweight steel members in the floor assembly immediately aboveRoom 418.The wall that separates these rooms from the corridor also separatesthe plenum areas, which limited smoke spread via the plenum to the roomsacross the corridor. There was no evidence of smoke spread into any ofthe rooms via the HVAC system.LOCATION OF VICTIMSThe patients who died were located in rooms 417,418,419, and 421.The patient in Room 418 was burned severely, and skeletal remains werefound along with the metal parts of the bed. The patients in rooms 417and 419, immediately adjacent to the fire room, were found unconscious intheir beds, and probably succumbed to smoke inhalation (the MedicalExaminer’s reports on causes of death were not available at the time this report). The patient from Room 421 was found unconscious in thepartly open doorway to his room.The patient in Room 416 was awakened by the odor of the smokeand was unable to escape through the corridor. He reported that thesmoke in his room was very heavy. He leaned out of his window for freshair and was rescued by firefighters using a ground ladder.DAMAGE ASSESSMENTRoom 418 and all of its contents were completely consumed. Onlythe metal frames of the beds and chairs remained. The suspended ceilingin the fire room collapsed during the fire. The unprotected steel trussesand the floor decking immediately above the suspended ceiling saggedslightly. The top half of the door to Room 418 was burned away. Withthe exception of a small area near the doorway, all of the floor tiles inRoom 418 were consumed.The south corridor on the 4-South wing suffered extensive smokeand heat damage. The patient rooms adjacent to the south corridorsuffered moderate heat and smoke damage. The remainder of the fourthfloor beyond the smoke control doors suffered only minor smoke damage.The fifth floor south wing also suffered minor smoke damage. The firecaused approximately $500,000 in damages.HOSPITAL FIRE DRILLSThe hospital has a comprehensive fire and safety drill program.Each shift drills twice each quarter on emergency procedures. In somecases the shift personnel are drill participants, while in other cases they areobservers.The hospital teaches the standard four-step RACE procedure for ahandling a fire. RACE stands for:Remove victims in the room of origin, or remove the fire tothe outside (such as in the case of a burning trashcan).Activate the fire alarm system.Contain the fire by closing the door to the room of origin andto other rooms and areas.Page 15

Evacuate patients.The 4-South nursing staff on duty the night of the fire hadparticipated in a fire drill two nights before the fire occurred. In general,the staff appeared to have a good understanding of emergency procedures.The hospital staff response to this fire appears to have been verygood in most respects. The nurse who discovered the fire followed most ofthe
emergency action steps that she had been taught in drills. When shediscovered
the fire, she first activated the alarm system, and thenattempted to smother the
fire with a blanket and to cut the patient loosefrom the restraints. Other
nurses responded with fire extinguishers butwere unable to use them due to the
size of the fire and amount of smokethey encountered when they reached the room.
The nurses then beganevacuating the mobile patients from 4-South and attempted
to removesleeping patients. They closed all of the doors to occupied patient
roomsin the south corridor and the two intersecting corridors.ANALYSISThis
section of the report identifies and analyzes the significantfindings that can
be drawn from this incident.Fire Growth and Smoke SpreadBased on accounts of the
fire from hospital personnel and physicalevidence, it appears that the fire grew
rapidly and that flashover in theroom occurred within a maximum of five to seven
minutes after the firewas first detected by a nurse. Reports from the
Chesterfield ambulancecrew indicate that the room’s window blew out at
approximately 21: 12.The fire generated large quantities of heavy black smoke
which rapidlyfilled the adjacent area.The rapid fire growth and smoke spread can
be attributed to severalfactors listed below.The beds provided the major source
of fuel for the fire. Theplastic parts of the bed, particularly the foam plastic
in themattresses provided the fuel for rapid fire growth and heatrelease, with
large volumes of black smoke. The cushions onchairs in the room also contributed
to the rapid burning

Page 19
smoke production.The door to the fire room was left open, which allowed thesmoke
and heat to enter the corridor. This exposed all of theother rooms to smoke and
hindered rescue attempts by thestaff. Had the door been closed, the bulk of the
smoke andheat would have been contained to the room. The firegrowth may also
have been slowed by the reduction inventilation.The suspended ceiling in the
room of origin collapsed whenthe metal frame structure began to warp, probably
aroundthe time of flashover. This provided an opening by whichsmoke could travel
through the common plenum space aboveRooms 416-421 and into the rooms.An oxygen
regulator on the wall melted, releasing 100percent oxygen into the room at an
undetermined rate.The patient was taking oxygen therapy but was not on oxygenat
the time of the fire.It is believed that the damage to the oxygen
regulatoroccurred after flashover of the patient room. The emergencyoxygen
shut-off valve at the nurses’ station was closedapproximately three to four
minutes after the fire wasdiscovered. The oxygen may have intensified the fire
for ashort time, however, it does not appear to have contributedto the rapid
fire growth and smoke production prior toflashover.The sliding window in the
fire room was open approximatelysix inches at the time of the fire. This
provided additional airsupply to the fire and may have contributed to a
draftthrough the room and through the open door into thecorridor.Hospital Staff
ResponseThe rapid fire involvement and smoke production appear to haveforced the
nurses to retreat before they were able to close the door to thefire area. A
maintenance worker responding to investigate the alarmPage 17

Page 20
closed the emergency oxygen valve for 4-South. Although it would havebeen
preferable for this valve to have been closed immediately upondiscovery of the
fire, the staff was very busy evacuating patients and closingdoors during this
period. A general announcement was made over thehospital public address system
indicating that there was an actual fire inthe building which notified staff
throughout the hospital to activateemergency procedures. Hospital personnel,
including a doctor, respondedto the floor to triage and treat patients removed
by firefighters. Patientcharts were removed from 4-South by nurses so that other
hospital staffwould know how to treat patients who had been removed from rooms
anddisconnected from oxygen and intravenous treatments.In general, it appears
that hospital staff were very familiar withemergency procedures for a fire and,
in most cases, followed theseprocedures. The efforts by the hospital’s safety
department to train staffabout emergency procedures appears to have played a
significant role in anefficient handling of this emergency. Unfortunately, in
the rush toevacuate 4-South and activate other emergency procedures following
thediscovery of the fire, the door to Room 418 was left open. This
illustrateswhy it is important to have alarm activated self-closing doors
throughoutthe hospital, including patient room doors.7Based on reports about the
size of the fire when it was discovered, itis very likely that it could have
been extinguished with one of the waterextinguishers kept on the south
corridor.Fire Department ResponseIncident Command - Battalion Chief Steve
Bowling assumedcommand on the east side of the hospital immediately after
arriving on thescene. Chief Bowling’s initial plan was to have the first
arriving unitsexecute their planned assignments and to ascertain as quickly as
possiblethe amount of fire and the extent of evacuations and rescues that would
benecessary.Planned assignments, which included the first arriving engine7NFPA
101 recognizes the value of self-closing doors to patient rooms, but
recommendsthat rooms equipped with self-closing doors also be equipped with an
automatic detectionsystem connected to an annunciator panel that indicates which
detectors are in alarm. Self-closing doors may make it difficult for hospital
personnel to determine the origin of smoke,which is why the automatic detection
system is recommended when self-closing doors are used.Page 18

Page 21
checking the fire annunciator panel and the second arriving engineestablishing
the water supply and charging the standpipe system, wereexecuted promptly. All
of the 14 personnel on the first alarm were busyeither fighting the fire or
performing rescues for the first 20 minutes. Untilother personnel arrived, the
Incident Commander did not have thenecessary personnel to assign sector
officers.A significant fire in an occupied institutional facility is more
thanone commander can manage alone. Chief Bowling noted that thefirefighters
from the first alarm companies were too busy fighting the fireand rescuing
victims to be able to provide a full evaluation of theconditions inside the
hospital. Off-duty command officers wereimmediately called to respond, but most
of them did not arrive on thescene until the fire had been
extinguished.Coordination Between Incident Command and Hospital Staff --
TheIncident Commander did not have a representative from the hospital at
thecommand post to serve as a liaison until over one-half hour into theincident.
As a result, he was unable to resolve some key questions aboutventilation
systems, elevator problems, and the hospital’s immediate needs.Two specific
problems arose that required cooperation andcoordination between the fire
department and the hospital. First, firedepartment personnel could not control
the elevators initially because theydid not have the necessary keys. While
firefighters needed elevators toshuttle equipment to the fire floor, hospital
staff needed the elevators toevacuate patients. This is an important issue that
should be addressed inan evacuation plan.The second problem dealt with transfer
of patients. Several patientsfrom the fire floor suffered injuries that required
them to be transferred toother hospitals with bum units. Patients from the
fourth and fifth floorswere moved to areas of the hospital unaffected by the
fire. The hospitalhad to borrow portable oxygen cylinders from every fire
department uniton the scene to treat patients who had been exposed to the
smoke.Hospital ConstructionThe hospital was built to the 1974 BOCA building
code. The codesrequired institutional buildings to be divided into fire
resistivecompartments to contain fire spread. The original building was
notsprinklered.Page 19

Page 22
The effectiveness of many compartmentation systems tends todecrease over time as
various systems are installed or repaired. Theeffectiveness of the
compartmentation on the south wing of SRMC appearsto have been largely
maintained over more than 20 years.Each patient room was designed to be a fire
resistive compartmentcapable of containing a fire for approximately one hour.
Thecompartmentation failed early due to the door to the room being left openand
the failure of the suspended ceiling early in the fire. The spread ofsmoke and
heat to the corridor and the adjacent rooms resulted in threeadditional deaths.
If the fire and smoke spread had been contained toRoom 418 only one death would
have occurred.It is unclear why the ceiling assembly failed during the fire.
Theceiling was part of a fire resistive floor ceiling system. One or more of
theceiling tiles, which must be secured in place with pins to function
properly,may have not been secured, allowing them to be drawn up and out of
theframe of the suspended ceiling by air drafts created by the fire. Due to
theamount of damage to the ceiling, however, it was impossible to
determinewhether each ceiling tile was secured in place with clips.There were
two exits from the corridor, one through the smokecontrol doors, and the other
to the exit stairway.Hospital Fire Protection SystemsThe presence of a sprinkler
system in the room of origin would haveextinguished or controlled the fire and
probably prevented the deaths ofthree patients in adjacent rooms. Sprinklers
were not required under thecode when the 4-South corridor was constructed.*On
the night of the fire, the fire alarm system was activated by thenurse who
discovered the fire and pulled a manual station. A smokedetector in the room of
origin would have activated the alarm system morequickly, especially since the
door to the room was closed. The detectorslocated in the corridor offered only
limited protection; it is ideal to have adetector in every patient room to
provide the earliest possible alert. This8NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, recommends
that existing highrise health care occupanciesover 75 feet tall be protected
throughout by an automatic sprinkler system. Southside RegionalMedical Center is
7 stories tall, making it very close to the minimum height to qualify as
ahighrise. SRMC was not required to retrofit to meet the Life Safety Code
standards.Page 20

Page 23
is especially important in hospitals and other facilities where patients maybe
unconscious, sedated, or otherwise unable to detect a fire on their own.The
increasing number of electrical appliances in patient rooms is anotherreason for
locating detectors in each room.The hospital alarm systems used to be monitored
by a centralstation at night, but this practice had recently ceased due to
problems withfalse alarms. Hospital policy is to report an alarm to the
switchboard;security officers check the annunciator panel and respond to
investigate analarm. If the switchboard receives a report of an actual fire,
however, itspolicy is to notify the fire department immediately. At the time of
the fire,the alarm system was not connected to a central station, and
notificationdepended on a call to the fire department by the switchboard
operator. Itis preferable to connect the alarm to a central station or to the
firedepartment, as is recommended by NFPA 101.The alarm system on the south
corridor of 4-South includes twosmoke detectors and pull stations. When either
is activated, a generalalarm sounds throughout the hospital. The alarm system
does not recordan alarm activation time, nor does it differentiate between which
alarm wasfirst activated because the detectors and pull stations are on the
samecircuit. When the fire alarm system activates, the smoke control doors inthe
corridors close automatically. Patient room doors, however, are not onthis
system.HVAC SystemThe hospital’s ventilation system supplies fresh air to the
patientrooms via metal ducts that run through the plenum space. Air is
removedfrom each patient bathroom by fans that run constantly. There is no
othercentral ventilation system. Cooling and heating are provided by
individualfan-coil units in each room.The fresh air supply fans were supposed to
automatically shut downwhen the fire alarm activated, but this function was
disabled at the time ofthe fire. A hospital technician manually shut down the
fans approximately30 minutes after the fire was controlled. The failure of this
system to shutdown may have supplied fresh air to the fire, but this
contribution does notappear to have played a significant role in fueling the
fire. Nonetheless,the status of the building systems should be readily available
to firedepartment personnel.Page 21

Page 24
Smoke stains around the bathroom exhaust fans indicate that thefans drew smoke
out of rooms. According to one patient, the fans did notremove the smoke as
quickly as smoke filled the rooms.LESSONS LEARNED1.A limited fire protection
svstem in an institution offers only minimalprotection.The most important lesson
that should be derived from this incidentis the importance of installing
sprinkler and smoke detection systemsthroughout institutional facilities where
occupant evacuation is difficult andtime consuming. The smoke detectors in the
corridors did not providesufficient time for hospital personnel to respond to
try to control theincident since the door to the room of origin was closed when
the firestarted. Even when smoke detection is installed to provide early
warning,a real possibility exists that a rapidly growing fire can occur in a
patientroom with a heavy fire load. In this case, it is preferable to equip
everyroom with a sprinkler system to control the fire.2.Preparation of hospital
staff for a fire is an integral part of the fireprotection.In this incident, the
hospital staff was regularly trained and wellversed in emergency procedures for
a fire. Some of the staff performedheroic rescues that probably saved the lives
of some of the patients. Evenwith good training, the rapid growth of a fire and
accumulation of smokemay prevent hospital staff from being able to perform all
emergencyprocedures, including closing all of the doors and evacuating patients.
Inthis case, the door to the room of origin was left open, due to a variety
offactors. This reinforces the importance of having automatic
extinguishingsystems in every room of an institution.3.The intent and
effectiveness of compartment&ion is destroved whena door or other opening to a
room is left open.An automatic, self-closing door system on the doors to
patientrooms would have been beneficial in this incident. The effectiveness
ofcompartmentation features was destroyed by an open door which allowedsmoke and
heat spread into the corridor, and which provided a source offresh air for the
fire. The suspended ceiling, which was designed to be fire-Page 22

Page 25
rated, failed early in the fire, also destroying the
compartmentationeffectiveness.4.Smoke control doors are an important fire
protection feature tocontrol smoke spread.This fire demonstrated that smoke
spread can be effectivelycontrolled by smoke control doors and closed doors.
Smoke spread via thecorridor into other rooms on the corridor was controlled
effectively byhospital personnel closing doors to patient rooms. The
self-closing smokecontrol doors at one end of the corridor contained the heavy
smokedamage to only one corridor on 4-South wing.5.Smoke can spread readily
through a plenum space to adjacent areaseven though doors are closed.Smoke
spread very rapidly, through the common plenum spaceabove six rooms on the
corridor due to rapid failure of the ceiling in theroom of origin. This allowed
smoke to fill the plenum space and to spreadinto adjacent rooms. Common plenum
spaces allow for rapid smokespread. Suspended ceilings should not be expected to
contain smoke dueto leakage between tiles and the ceiling frame.6.A working
institutional occupancy fire places tremendous resourcerequirements on fire
departments.The evacuation of institutional facilities including hospitals,
nursinghomes, schools, and jails is very laborious and will generally require
morefirefighting personnel than is needed at fires in other types of
occupancies.Initial dispatch assignments for these types of occupancies should
includeadditional resources than normally dispatched for other types
ofoccupancies.7 .Pre-fire planning facilitates fireground operations.The fire
department had developed planned assignments forresponse to the hospital. Most
of the firefighters were familiar with theinterior layout, including where
standpipe connections were located. Pre-fire planning creates an organized
structure of response before the chaos ofan emergency incident occurs. It also
allows for quick, efficient operationswithout having delays created by
unfamiliar surroundings. This firerequired the resources of mutual aid
departments. Mutual aid departmentsPage 23

Page 26
should participate in pre-fire planning of institutions or other targethazards
outside of their jurisdiction to which they might be summoned.8.Command at an
institutional occupancy fire requires a high level ofcoordination and
cooperation between the fire department and theinstitutional staff.The Incident
Commander will need the assistance of institutionalstaff to manage the incident
efficiently. Institutional staff, such as abuilding engineer and medical or
administrative personnel, will benecessary to answer questions, to assess needs,
and to assist with patienttreatment and transfer. The pre-fire plan of an
institution should designatea liaison to the Incident Commander to assist with
coordination. Theliaison should be equipped with the appropriate resources such
as keys anda knowledge of the building’s mechanical systems. This person should
betrained to report to the command post or first arriving unit as part of
firedrill procedures.ADDITIONAL INFORMATION OF INTERESTAs a result of this fire,
the Commonwealth of Virginia enactedrequirements under state code 3699.9: 1
which requires all hospitals in thestate to be fully sprinklered by January 1,
1998.


phone call reporting fire received at PetersburgEmergency Communications Center
from patient on 4th floorof hospital911 phone call reporting fire received at
PetersburgEmergency Communications Center from ChesterfieldCounty ambulance
attendant outside of hospital reporting fire911 phone call reporting fire
received at PetersburgEmergency Communications Center from hospitalswitchboard
operatorDispatch of first alarmPetersburg Police Unit 7103 radios Petersburg
EmergencyCommunications Center from 4th floor of hospital reportingfireDispatch
of first alarm completeFirst alarm units respondingChesterfield Fire Department
ambulance radios PetersburgUnit 530 (Battalion Chief) to report working fire on
4th floorwith fire evident from outside of hospitalSecond alarm requested by
Unit 530Petersburg Emergency Communications Center requestsresponse of off-duty
staff officersDispatch of second alarmEngine 2 on scene, nothing showing West
sideFire/Rescue 4 (Petersburg Ambulance) on scene, fire andsmoke evident East
side. Remainder of first alarm units onscene within next minute.

Unit 570 requests landline by Unit 501Unit 530 on
scene, establishes Command on East sideCommand advises Engine 2 of person
trappedSecond alarm units respondingEngine 2 advises it is on 4th floor looking
for fireUnit 570 (Asst. Chief of Support Services) respondingCommand requests
Colonial Heights Fire Department AirUnit (mutual aid)Unit 507 (Safety Officer)
respondingChesterfield Fire Unit 127 on scene (75-foot Tower Ladder)Patient in
Room 416 being removed by ladder rescue.Command advises he can see line working
in room of originUnit 507 on sceneUnit 570 on scenePatient from Room 416 safely
on groundAir bottles requested on 4th floorColonial Heights Air Unit on
sceneFire knocked downChesterfield Engine 123 (special request) responding
(mutualaid)Chesterfield Engine 124 (special request) responding
(mutualaid)Petersburg Emergency Communications Center advisesCommand that Unit
501 is with Unit 520

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