Operating Room Fire During Surgery Results in Death of Patient

Although they are rare occurrences, operating room fires occur hundreds of times every year during surgical procedures throughout the United States. Earlier this month, a flash fire in an operating room in Marion, Illinois resulted in the tragic death of a female patient who suffered severe burns during surgery.

A 65 year-old woman died on September 8 of wounds received six days earlier in an operating room fire at Heartland Regional Medical Center, according to an Associated Press report. Although the family has declined to provide details on what type of operation was being performed, it was confirmed that the patient suffered thermal burns when a flash fire broke out.

The hospital has confirmed that there was a fire in the operating room that was extinguished immediately and claimed that staff responded with “necessary and appropriate measures.”

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According to data gathered by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Reporting System in 2007, there are about 550 to 650 surgery fires every year, typically resulting in one or two deaths. However, many more patients suffer severe and disfiguring burns as a result of the fires that are often started by a combination of electrosurgical tools, oxygen, and flammable hospital drapes.

Burns on the upper body or inside the patient’s airway account for about 65% of all surgical fire injuries. About 25% occur elsewhere on the body, and 10% happen inside the body cavity. Electrosurgical tools are involved in 70% of those fires, while 10% are caused by lasers. The rest are caused by sparks from wires, light sources, burrs or defibrillators.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists has released recommendations on actions hospitals can take to reduce the risk of surgical fires. These steps include:

  • Perform regular operating room fire drills, which less than half of all U.S. hospitals currently conduct.
  • Improve communications between surgeons and anesthesiologists, such as doctors announcing when they plan to use an electrosurgical tool, so the anesthesiologist can temporarily lower the oxygen supply.
  • Expand training and education of medical staff on awareness and prevention of fires during surgical procedures.


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