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Officials identify cause of fire at Oregon children’s hospital

The story of a fire at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital that severely burned an 11-year-old girl has been making headlines nationwide. A new report released by the Oregon State Fire Marshall attributes the cause of the fire to a flammable mixture of hand sanitizer, olive oil and static elasticity. It’s not known if or to what extent hospital negligence may have played a role in the fire, but it was found that the medical facility did not follow its own procedures following the incident.

The blaze left a young cancer survivor with second- and third-degree burns. Sparks from static elasticity caused an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to catch fire. It is believed the girl used the hand sanitizer to clean a table over her bed and wiped it on her shirt. The girl also had olive oil on her shirt, which made the fire worse. Olive oil is a common substitute to remove glue that holds electrodes to the scalp for an EEG in patients with certain allergies. The Fire Marshall’s report states that the presence of the olive oil was not enough to ignite the fire. It was the presence of the hand sanitizer in this unlikely chain of events that led to the blaze.

Investigators also found that staff at the girl’s medical facility did not follow fire policies and procedures adopted by the Oregon Health & Science University. The fire did not automatically activate the fire alarm and sprinkler systems. In this case, the hospital staff should have manually activated the fire alarm system and a “code red” page for the facility. Hospital staff also should have evacuated patients from the fire’s smoke compartment.

The hospital is reviewing its procedures and says that some of its protocols will change following the incident. It no longer suggests the use of olive oil for patients who are allergic to EEG gel remover. It is also reviewing its placement of hand sanitizer and other procedures to promote safety.

The 11-year-old girl continues to undergo skin grafts for her injuries. She suffered burns to about 19% of her body. The girl is a cancer survivor who was at the children’s hospital after hitting her head at school and becoming unconscious.

Source: The Oregonian, “Updated: hand sanitizer, olive oil to blame in Portland hospital fire that burned 11-year-old girl: investigators,” Nick Budnick, Feb. 20, 2013