Do you remember the Carr Fire that raged across two California counties in 2018? If you lived in Shasta, Trinity, or the surrounding California counties, then this fire that raged from July 23rd to August 30th, 2018, is more than just an event that you 'remember.' The sights, the sounds, the smells, mixed with the anxiety, fear, and sadness are probably deeply etched in your mind with memories that aren't soon to be forgotten.
When describing the fire, the National Park Service said, "During a record-tying heat wave in late July of 2018 in which daytime highs hit 109 degrees Fahrenheit on several straight days, the Carr Fire began inside Whiskeytown National Recreation Area." While the fire was fought aggressively, it quickly spread "due to the extreme heat, extreme wind, extreme dryness, and other factors. The fire ultimately grew to 229,651 acres and spread into nearby communities. Three firefighters died, four civilians died, and over 1,000 homes and buildings were destroyed." (source)
The Carr Fire was the "most destructive fire in the history of the National Park System," (source) yet it was started by a few sparks thrown from the road into tall, dry grass. (source)
OR Manager published an article entitled "California Fires Threaten Safety of OR Staff" outlining the cause and severity of the fire, but also how this unexpected disaster affected Shasta Regional Medical Center and their operating room. Hospital administration worked tirelessly, meeting and providing updates every two hours. Evacuation plans were set up. The operating room was reduced to emergency surgeries only. "Hospital administration and management encouraged employees to take care of themselves and their families first. Staff covered shifts for each other, and those who were able to, came in and took call when others could not."
Despite the chaos and fear, the team at Shasta Regional came together and met this disaster with a plan and strong leadership.
Disasters, whether internal to our department or external events like a devastating wildfire, do not wait for us to be prepared before they strike. A disaster strikes, and we must already be prepared to spring into action.
In the OR Manager article mentioned above, there were several quotes from OR staff members that highlight the importance of preparation:
“You have to respect the fire,” says Wayne Palmer, BSN, RN, CCRN, FCCS, director of surgery at Shasta Regional Medical Center. “You might think you have time, but in reality you don’t because it moves so fast. When you are asked to get out, you have to move out.”
"Being ready for a disaster is important because you do not have time to think when it actually happens." OR supervisor Nancy Carter, LVN II, CST.
"Our minds were racing with fear." Nancy Carter, LVN II, CST
When disaster strikes, there's no time to plan. In the fight or flight moment we find ourselves in, we instinctively draw on what has been engrained in us to get us through, because, like Nancy Carter put it, our minds are racing with fear. We can't always think straight when we're afraid.
And that is why preparation is key. Take the time to prepare for internal and external disasters before they occur. Run the fire drills, tornado drills, evacuation drills, and malignant hypothermia drills. Learn them when the stakes aren't high and the pressure is low, so that when the time comes, you can fall back on what you've already learned and you'll be able to sucessfully navigate the disaster you find yourself in.
Disasters of any kind are heartbreaking. Wildfires, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and mass shootings dominate the headlines for their terrible destruction. Is your facility prepared to address these events if they occur in your area? Is your staff trained and ready to respond?
As we kick off Fire Prevention week on Sunday, October 9th, we can't prevent natural disasters like the Carr Wildfire. We can, however, be prepared for a disaster when it strikes. What is your facility doing to teach fire safety and prevention? How are you training your team to prevent catastrophic surgical fires? Fire moves quickly, whether it's destroying acres of land or an operating room. There's no time to think when the unfortunate event occurs. There's only time to act.
Is your team ready?
Until next time,