Surgical Fires are caused by heat, fuel and an oxidizer. When these three elements come together in certain amounts, a fire will occur. Each of these elements can be found in an operating room.
- Heat is created in an operating room by overhead lights, drills, surgical lasers, and other equipment. Sparks are generated many times.
- Fuels, such as alcohol, surgical preps, open bottles with liquid flammable solutions, and certain ointments abound. Linens, mattresses, dressings and protective clothing are also a fertile fuel source.
- Oxidizers are always present from anesthesia, supplemental oxygen, and other sources.
If a fire occurs, it is often devastating to the patient because of its intensity and proximity. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) issued a bulletin in 2003 about surgical fires and recently estimated that there are approximately 600-700 surgical fires a year that cause up to 20 serious injuries and several fatalities. Many fires are out quickly and are therefore not reported, so the number of instances is actually a great deal more than reported.
Surgical fires are easily prevented. The key is to manage heat sources. However, fuel sources should be kept at a minimum by allowing time for vapors, gasses and oxygen concentrations to dissipate, and by checking to make sure volatile fluids have not pooled – especially under the patient. Efforts must also be made to minimize concentrations of oxygen by vigilantly checking for open sources and ventilating them with drapes tented around the patient’s head when open sources must be used.
Ken Berman, a founding partner of the firm, has perhaps more experience representing victims of surgical fires than any other attorney. He successfully has taken cases to both verdict and settlement and defended it in the Courts, resulting in substantial recoveries for our clients. If you are a victim, or an attorney who needs assistance with a surgical fire case, please do not hesitate to contact Ken at 301-670-7030 or 800-827-2667.