I had finished the morning med pass early, and the wound team was going to see the one patient I had with a dressing so I moved on to charting. Everyone else seemed be be having a similarly smooth shift because as we charted we chatted lightly.
Just around 10:45 am an alarm sounded and a pleasant robotic yet feminine voice informed euphemistically that there was an "emergency."
This is our fire alarm system. As a side note, the robot lady used to command "EVACUATE THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY" but we've since gotten that fixed.
Everyone sprang into action. We entered the hallway and began to clear it of carts, vital sign machines and chairs. Our policy in emergencies is that the person in the highest rank of authority on any given shift becomes the incident commander. The nursing supervisor arrived and told us that this was not, in fact, a drill. The laundry room had caught on fire. She asked the RNs to take a patient census since the respite aides were otherwise engaged.
The census of my side of the hallway was quickly combined with the census from the other side and then run downstairs to be reconciled with a master census.
As the second floor evacuated RNs and NPs visited each room on the third and fourth floor to check on people and ask that they stay in the rooms with the doors shut.
I think this is a good time to point out that most of the people working on Tuesday had never been through a fire drill in our new building. Everyone was basing their actions on common sense and respect for the proper authority.
It was a whole day before I got the story from staff who had been evacuated from the second floor. Apparently they stood outside with the patients and watched as firemen broke the windows of the laundry room and threw flaming laundry out the window. The fire had started in a drier.
Soon we got word from the fire department that the fire may be in the walls on the side of the building where the laundry room is. We quickly and safely moved all the patients into the administrative hallways on the 3rd and 4th floor respectively, as far from the questionable walls as possible. Patient on crutches, in wheelchairs, and on foot huddled with us in the hallway. A severely anxious patient was allowed to pace alone in a conference room we cleared for that purpose.
We waited for almost an hour, not sure if we'd have to move everyone down the stairs or not.
I looked around in amazement. No one was acting out. No one was complaining. Staff was handing out water to patients, laughing and joking, keeping spirits light. The DON smiled at me "more adventures, right?" I laughed and nodded. As long as everyone was safe, that's how I saw it.
Firemen began to tour the building, assessing it for safety. At first the smoke was too thick, and the fumes too toxic for us to return to work or the patients to return to their rooms. When we did return, patients still had to stay in their rooms and staff was asked to walk up and down the halls, ready for any problems to present themselves.
Soon after we returned to the floors the alarm stopped ringing. The silence was a miracle. It was now the kitchen staff's turn to shine as they cooked and then boxed lunches for all the patients and staff since the second floor was too smoky and wet to allow anyone else access. Admissions were halted for the day and it was another hour before anyone could go downstairs to smoke. When the announcement was made that the deck was open the patients fairly ran to the Atrium.
We all returned to work, checking glucose levels, changing dressings, medicating patients and charting about it. We all left on time.
It struck me as really amazing, and as the DON put it, "a testament to our staff," that we had gone from chatting and typing to full action mode in almost 0 seconds, and then didn't skip a beat getting back to work as soon as the danger was resolved.
By the next day the windows had been replaced, the drier had been fixed and the entire building was operating at 100%.
I'm impressed. Just one more reason why I love my job.