UPDATE: Patients return to hospital after evacuation - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Patients return to hospital after evacuation

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -
UPDATE: All patients returned to the Kindred Hospital after being evacuated when smoke was reported at the facility Monday morning. 
 
A fire alarm was activated about 10:36 am Monday, sending a total of six Chattanooga Fire Department companies to the Kindred Hospital Chattanooga at 709 Walnut Street. When firefighters confirmed that there was smoke in the building, Battalion Chief Nate Middlebrooks ordered an evacuation of the building as a precaution. The Department called for a second alarm response to bring in more fire fighters to assist with the evacuation. A total of 12 fire companies responded to assist.
 
"It actually is a big task to evacuate a hospital as you can imagine many are in hospital beds," said Bruce Garner, Chattanooga Fire Dept. "Until they could confirm the source of that smoke they wanted to be absolutely sure and that's why they were moving patients out just to be on the safe side."

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in most cases smoke is considered to be more dangerous than fire. Smoke and toxic fume exposure is the leading cause of fire related death and injury.

Many of the patients evacuated from the transitional care facility were on ventilators, making them more susceptible to smoke inhalation injury.
Firefighters were assisted with the evacuation by personnel with Hamilton County EMS, Chattanooga police and hospital staff. Eyewitnesses watched from close by and say the massive response was unnerving.

"When I heard evacuation, I assumed it was maybe an infection or disease going around," said witness Matt Fitzharris.

Fire investigators pinpointed the problem to a rooftop heating and air conditioning system. They disabled it, until it could be checked out and repaired if necessary.

"Everybody worked well together hospital staff, EMS, Chattanooga police were helping fire fighters as well," said Garner. "It was seamless as far as getting the evacuation done."

A doctor on scene says Kindred Hospital cares for patients who need long term critical care. Many of the patients stay for weeks and months, are bed-ridden and need ventilation machines at all times.

"There are patients that if their vent becomes disconnected, they lose their airway, they're at great risk for sudden cardiac-pulmonary arrest," said Dr. Michael Czarnecki, Director of Pulmonary care at Kindred Hospital.
    
During Dr. Czarnecki's normal Monday routine he heard the fire alarms go off  and saw heavy smoke coming from the air conditioning vents.

"I think it was within seconds to minutes everyone realized we got a serious situation here," Dr. Czarnecki said.
Out of the 24 patients being treated at kindred, the 17 most critical were evacuated to a parking garage across the street. Four patients were taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital because they were already in critical condition prior to the emergency and needed immediate care from medical personnel.

"You know in some situations you're transporting IV poles, IV pumps, medical equipment, ventilators," said Ken Wilkerson, Director of Hamilton County EMS, "Whatever may be utilized for that patient care."

Keeping the patients from panicking was a priority. Not only for the Kindred staff, but all first responders on scene.

Once firefighters deemed the building safe, they helped patients back inside, using what they could find to shield them from the rain.

"Firefighters pulled out the tarps which we ordinarily use for fires, and we covered the patients up with tarps to keep them from getting so wet," said Bruce Garner of the Chattanooga Fire Department.

According to first responders, all Chattanooga hospitals are required to have an evacuation plan in place.

Dr. Czarnecki says in his six years at Kindred he's never seen the evacuation plan put into action.

"I don't think the hospital has ever experienced a situation of evacuation or smoke like this," Dr. Czarnecki said, "This is the first time this has happened in its history."
No injuries were reported. Officials told Channel 3 that the smoke came from a HVAC unit, which forced the evacuation of the patients as a precautionary measure. What caused the unit to smoke is still under investigation.

 
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