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‘Teamwork saved lives in Great Ormond Street’s fire’

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There’s nothing like a major incident to shake off Monday morning lethargy.

Shortly after 8.30am, staff and parents smelt smoke on Ladybird, a cardiac ward at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

Alarms were activated after doctors were unable to put out the fire with extinguishers.

The ward, home to the high-dependency unit, was evacuated inside six minutes.

The evacuees arrived at the cardiac ICU opposite – just in time to escape the explosion in Ladybird. The blast wave broke windows and blew open ventilation covers. In theatres, doctors started reversing their patients’ anaesthetic.

Outside, the street bristled with fire crews and police erected cordons. Rumours circulated among staff, patients, parents and passers-by. ‘It was a bomb.’ ‘No, oxygen has exploded.’

Four officers were injured but, miraculously no staff, patients or visitors were. Much of the day slipped by in a blur, as it did during the 7/7 bombings when the hospital went into surreal overdrive.

Our teaching area was needed for patients, so nursing professor Judith Ellis and her team rolled up their sleeves to shift furniture.

By mid-morning, nurses on the cardiac ICU were damp-dusting and patients and staff had been absorbed into the adjoining ICU.

By the next day, elective and emergency operations and all outpatient appointments were taking place.

The fire brigade praised staff for the way in which they carried out the evacuation. If Hollywood made this story, people would be screaming and running for their lives, with the odd person dying. A fortnight ago in London, everyone got the job done in a calm, orderly yet adrenaline-charged fashion.

As with 7/7, the biggest impression I had was how the teamwork made it happen. That intense teamwork was one of the reasons why I became a nurse.

I must congratulate one group in particular. Several sisters said how well the nursing students dealt with the evacuation.

Comments included: ‘I can’t tell you how good the students were’ and ‘They were brilliant.’ And one student said: ‘It was scary – my adrenaline was going. But people just got on with it. It was wicked.’

Brian Belle-Fortune is a student practice facilitator at Great Ormond Street Hospital

Want to read more of Brian Belle-Fortune’s opinions? Just click on the more by this author link at the top of the page.

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