Enhancing fire safety with training and partnerships

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By Michael Oreskovich

At Runnymede Healthcare Centre, implementing effective fire management strategies supports the hospital’s top priority: patient safety. Inadequate preparation for emergency situations is a serious matter, and the stakes are very high. Runnymede’s most recent fire safety inspection, conducted in cooperation with the Toronto Fire Service, was a success that revealed many leading practices and solidified the hospital’s reputation as a centre of excellence.

Runnymede’s fire evacuation processes must be exceptionally efficient in order to meet the needs of its patients, as the majority have limited mobility because of their injuries or medically complex conditions. The emergency policies and procedures at Runnymede address this identified need by outlining staff members’ responsibilities and specific methods for safely transferring patients to designated areas away from harm. The policies and procedures adopt the standardized language recommended by the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) and include a code red for fire and code green for evacuation.

Excellent policies are only half of the equation, however. According to Bruce Westwater, Runnymede’s director of information services, “ensuring that hospital staff are well-trained and have the necessary supports for responding to a code red and code green is crucial.” Runnymede trains all new staff on emergency policies and procedures as part of the hospital’s orientation program. “After orientation, online education tools like videos, policy documents and other resources are always available for staff members to review on an as-needed basis,” says Westwater.

To further embed awareness of fire safety policies and procedures in staff, Runnymede runs monthly fire drills and annual mock evacuations, with staff members acting as “stand-ins” for patients. The evacuation exercises, conducted in partnership with the Toronto Fire Service, help to ensure that Runnymede’s code red and code green policies and procedures can be effectively executed not only on paper, but in practice as well.

When the latest annual mock code red and code green exercise ran in late 2015, it demonstrated a true test of the strength of Runnymede’s emergency preparedness by simulating a worst-case scenario: a fire starting in a ward room of four patients with the number of on-site staff at its minimum. The exercise was tremendously successful. Runnymede staff cleared patients from the simulated fire zones in only 20 minutes – significantly faster than the 85 minute time limit allotted by the fire inspector.

A debrief with the Toronto Fire Service highlighted that in the event of an actual emergency, Runnymede’s extensive sprinkler coverage would help minimize the speed of a fire’s spread and buy staff extra time to remove patients from affected areas.

The debrief also recognized Runnymede’s implementation of new technology that enhances connections between the hospital’s heat detectors and communications systems. “When a heat detector is triggered, our receptionist is notified of the precise location of the alarm,” says Westwater. “When the fire department arrives, the reception personnel are then able to convey exactly where the alarm was generated and first responders don’t lose time searching for the source of the fire.” Triggered heat detectors also cause electronic signage around the hospital to display the location of the alarm so that all staff members instantly have information about where the fire can be found.

Runnymede shares insights like these with its peers through a collaborative team of member hospitals from around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Called the Toronto Hospital Emergency Preparedness Quality Improvement Committee (THEPQIC), the team’s purpose is to enhance best practices in emergency preparedness for hospitals in the region. “Through our relationships with peer hospitals, we’re able to exchange strategies about managing crisis situations, like fires,” says Westwater. “By leveraging our partnerships through THEPQIC we can share our expertise while gathering new perspectives that strengthen our commitment to quality improvement.”

Also advancing patient safety at Runnymede is a dedicated staff member who performs regular safety inspections at the hospital. The health and safety specialist collaborates closely with Runnymede’s management team to provide insights and recommendations related to safety, including emergency preparedness.

Through patient-centred code red and code green policies and procedures, ongoing support of staff education and implementation of enhanced safety technologies, Runnymede clearly demonstrates readiness for a fire emergency. In addition, the hospital continuously seeks opportunities for quality improvement through its partnerships. These efforts are all a reflection of the hospital’s outstanding commitment to patient safety. “You can’t plan for when a crisis will happen,” concludes Westwater, “but with an excellent emergency response strategy, you can absolutely plan to be prepared to deal with one effectively.”

Michael Oreskovich is a Communications Specialist at Runnymede Healthcare Centre.