News & Events

Emergency preparedness put to the test

August 30, 2013

Quick action by employees keeps damage from fire to a minimum.

The quick actions of four employees during a fire Wednesday night helped avoid what could have been a major disaster.

The fire started sometime after 6 p.m. Three Sterile Processing Department employees were in the break room next door when Sterile Processing Department (SDP) Supervisor Rhonda Davis “smelled something funny.” Although these types of smells may, at times, not be unusual in the basement, she heard a loud noise and got up to check it out.

Ms. Davis found the electrical wiring above the dryer near the ceiling had a panel that blew off, and there was smoke and flames in the area of a dryer. She saw Environmental Services Department employee Traci Staehle down the hall and yelled to her to pull the fire alarm, which she did.

Meanwhile, Jean Mercure of SPD, with help from fellow SPD employee Araceli Pichay, used the fire extinguisher to put out the fire. Although there was no impact on patients or injuries to employees, the Yantic Fire Department, Taftville, City of Norwich and Mohegan Tribal fire departments responded because of the potential for a large-scale incident.

In a newspaper article in The Day of New London, Yantic Fire chief Frank Blanchard credited the Backus employees for their response, which helped avert what could have been a much more serious incident.

In addition to SPD and the Environmental Services Department (ESD), other hospital departments involved in the response included Public Safety, Engineering and Nursing Supervisors.

The cause of the fire, which caused minor damage, is under investigation by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

“The fire would have been much worse if these employees had not acted on their ‘internal smoke detectors,’” said Associate Administrator Whitney Bundy, RD, MBA, who oversees Environmental Services. “The sprinkler could have gone off had they delayed, and all linen would have been completely lost, plus nowhere to store new linen coming in.”

Associate Administrator Andrew Ellis, who oversees public safety at Backus, said the employees’ actions are good lessons on the importance of emergency preparedness and RACE, which is attached to employees’ badges and stands for Rescue, Alarm, Confine and Extinguish.

“This is why we put such an emphasis on drills and preparing for disasters,” said Mr. Ellis. “It’s a lesson for all of us that in this profession, we need to be ready for anything at any time. It’s not a question of it will happen — it’s just a question of when.”

Backus President Chief Executive Officer Dave Whitehead said the employees should be commended for following protocols and having a questioning attitude, which are among the hospital’s High Reliability Organization principles.

“I want to thank these employees for their quick-thinking and heroic actions,” said Mr. Whitehead. “Because of them, there was no impact on our patients or employees, which are our first priorities. This was an amazing display of staying calm under pressure, and knowing what to do in the case of an emergency. This could have been a much more serious incident.”