HAP Blog

What We Can Learn from a Once-in-a-Lifetime Hospital Fire

Are you reviewing your hospital fire, evacuation, and continuity of operations plans?

May 02, 2023

Recently, a Massachusetts hospital south of Boston was fully evacuated after a fire broke out in a basement transformer room. Due to safety concerns, power to the entire facility was discontinued. Local fire departments and first responders descended upon Signature Healthcare’s Brockton Hospital to support the incident. No injuries were reported, but the fire resulted in the relocation of roughly 160 patients.

The incident made plenty of headlines—as the first 10-alarm fire in the city’s history—but beyond that it was a learning opportunity for us all.

It’s easy for any of us to imagine dealing with a similar challenge at one of our health care facilities. After all, we are all one emergency away from putting our well-crafted plans to the test. You hope you will never need to use your continuity of operations plan (COOP) to manage a crisis, but we know we need to be ready.

I learned a lot from watching the challenge in Brockton unfold. The sheer size of the response to the fire was notable. In total, 77 ambulances, 31 firetrucks, seven ladder trucks, and countless other professionals supported the response. One report indicated Brockton’s morning census hovered around 187 patients; a small handful of those individuals were able to be rapidly discharged. As the fire burned, emergency officials worked rapidly to make a plan to safely transport those patients to other facilities.

We are thankful that we don’t have 10-alarm fires every day, but we have to learn from these incidents when they occur. Reflections on the response and coordination offered in local media reports give us plenty of notes for our own planning considerations.

  • This WCVB early on-scene press interview with key officials provided a summary of the emergency response, updating the general public on the ways the emergency affected clinical operations and the status of the fire
  • Once the scene was contained, the Brockton fire chief and leaders from the hospital and the community discussed their response, offered a phone line to concerned to families, and outlined the collaboration that allowed for the safe transportation of patients and staff

In one video, the fire chief discussed the importance of good plans and cooperation, and the ability to “pivot” to address the unseen or inconspicuous challenges that always arise. These public briefings are important because they educate the public about what’s happening and the decisions you made in real time. Transparency also builds trust in you as the go-to source for accurate information amid the noise on social media.

Continuity of operations in emergency management does not necessarily get the attention it deserves, but it’s a core part of the work we do. To maintain services, Brockton has relocated and/or extended hours for more than 15 services affected by the closure including the opening of two urgent care centers. None of us wants to imagine what we’d do if we were affected by a fire of this scale, but having these plans in place gives us the framework we need to act fast in a crisis.

For more information about continuity of operations planning, contact Matthew Linse, HAP manager, emergency management.

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