Bellin plan douses likelihood of surgical fires


GREEN BAY — A virtually unpublicized, yet, potentially fatal element is always present during each surgical procedure – the threat of fire. That’s why Bellin Health has measures in place to provide surgical patients an extra level of protection while in Bellin’s care.

According to the non-profit health agency, the ECRI Institute, “Virtually all operating room fires ignite on or in the patient. These fires typically result in little damage to equipment, cause considerable injury to patients, and are a complete surprise to the staff.”

That, coupled with the Institute of Medicine’s finding that medical errors are the eighth leading cause of death among Americans – with error-caused deaths in hospitals exceeding those from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer or AIDs – illustrates the severity of the matter.

Bellin’s proactive planning has helped put a damper on the likelihood of surgical fires, said Janice Kingston, Surgical Services Educator at Bellin Health.

“We have great practices in place that help protect our patients and our employees from harm during surgical procedures,” she said. “The average patient shouldn’t have to worry that there is always a mix of combustibles in the surgical arena – alcohol, aerosol adhesives, linens, oxygen tanks, hand-held electrocautery devices, light sources, lasers and other flammables. All our patients should know is that they are safe at all times in our care.”

Bellin’s surgical fire safety plan has been in place since 1992, undergoing annual revisions as needed. The plan encourages surgical staff members to understand their individual roles in the event of a surgical fire. It also helps team members identify surgical fire risk factors and clearly outlines preventative measures. The plan follows standards set by The Joint Commission and Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, both are health care regulatory organizations.

Bellin’s surgical team conducts specific fire safety education sessions with its staff to keep them prepared in case of a surgical-related fire emergency. These include fire alarm pulls and extinguisher locations, knowledge of fire and smoke separation door locations, and evacuation routes.

“We also frequently use national case studies to help our surgical team learn from others’ mistakes,” Kingston said. “Most importantly, our everyday practices reflect our focus on patient safety in the surgical theater.”

Unfortunately, sometimes even with the best preparations, other factors may cause a surgical fire beyond human control. Even so, Bellin Health says it’s fully prepared.

“Our No. 1 priority is patient safety,” Kingston said. “We’re not complacent. We are regularly practicing safety techniques in our operating rooms, such as careful use of electrocautery devices and managing potential ignition sources, to reduce the risk of fire issues. We’re definitely prepared for any surgical fire emergency.”