Fire Prompts Partial Evacuation at Bronx Hospital

Updated 6:55 p.m. | A fire in the boiler room at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx on Wednesday afternoon shut down two emergency rooms and two intensive care units, prompting a partial evacuation but causing no serious injuries or deaths.

When smoke filled part of the hospital, 250 patients were moved to “other safe areas” in the building, Susan Green-Lorenzen, senior vice president of operations at Montefiore, wrote in an e-mail. Five of the patients moved from intensive care were on respirators.

“I hollered to other side of E.R. that anyone who can walk out should walk out,” said Kelly Schneider, the head nurse who was working in the emergency room when the fire alarm went off at around 1 p.m. Smoke began pouring in through the ventilation system around 1 p.m., she recalled, so she ordered every staff member to grab any patient who was not ambulatory and wheel them out the front door. Everyone from secretaries to janitors helped clear out the 110 patients in the emergency department, she said.

“It was an extremely impressive sight that this very crowded emergency department was empty in a matter of minutes,” Ms. Schneider said.

The patient most at risk was a man who had suffered a cardiac arrest only minutes before the fire alarm sounded. Ms. Schneider unhooked the man from his mechanical ventilator and had to use a handheld device to manually pump oxygen into his lungs as they wheeled him to the ambulance receiving area in the back of the hospital.

Once outside, she realized she did not have equipment she needed to keep the man alive.

“I just pointed at people. ‘You get a monitor.’ ‘You get an IV cart,’ ” she said. “Five different people brought out the necessary supplies.”

She was eventually able to flag down a Fire Department commander, who arranged to have the man transported to another hospital.

Ms. Green-Lorenzen said that a malfunction in a diesel fuel line running to the boiler room in the basement likely caused the fire. Smoke traveled through air vents and elevator shafts to the emergency rooms on the ground floor directly above the fire and continued up to the intensive care unit on the second floor.

The Fire Department responded to a 911 call from the hospital, in the Norwood section of the Bronx, at 1:38 p.m.; more than 180 firefighters were dispatched to the scene, a department spokesman said.

Emergency responders treated 10 people for smoke inhalation, including one of the firefighters, the spokesman said, characterizing the injuries as minor.

“The fire was contained within an hour, and all efforts are being made to clear the remaining smoke,” Ms. Green-Lorenzen said. “Montefiore Medical Center is proud of the staff’s rapid response.”

After the smoke cleared, hospital staff returned patients to their appropriate beds and the emergency room was taking new patients by 4:40 p.m., Ms. Schneider said.

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