KINGSTON –– When Davia Tucker got dressed for work at the Bustamante Hospital for Children on January 12, little did she know that later that day she would have to jump through a window at the intensive care unit (ICU) after a fire broke out, in an attempt to save the lives of four children.
The South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), in a news release on January 13, said the fire occurred at approximately 7:15 p.m., but was quickly contained by staff members using an extinguisher.
SERHA said that four patients, who were being cared for in the ICU, were immediately evacuated to another section of the hospital and that one member of staff was treated for smoke inhalation.
A teary Tucker, critical care nurse at the institution, tells the tale of what happened before the smoke cleared that Thursday evening when the air conditioning (AC) unit in a consultant room inside the ICU caught fire.
Tucker had just finished the admission of a first-time patient to the ICU. She had orientated the child’s parents and told them to wait in a passage while she wrote her notes. Moments later, she was alerted by the voice of someone querying about the smell of something burning in the unit. But what Tucker smelled and had initially thought was electrical wire or plastic burning turned out to be smoke from the AC unit in the consultant office.
“You’re going to die? You are going to stay in here and really die?” was the thought that initially crossed Tucker’s mind when thick smoke from the fire started permeating the air in the building.
She describes how fearful she felt in that moment, as seeing the smoke triggered a previous experience that happened on the hospital compound. Tucker explained that a car belonging to the sister of one of her colleagues had caught fire and, in a matter of minutes, it was totally engulfed.
“I had that flashback in my mind and because of that, the fear of the unit burning down just came over me,” Tucker said.
However, this fear subsided when she realised, in that very moment, that she had a duty and the safety of the four children was of utmost importance.
“At the end of the day I can’t go to a mother and say to her, I ran away and left your child and your child died,” Tucker said.
That’s when she mustered the courage and braved the smoke in an attempt to get help to put out the fire. Help came when she alerted the compound, and porters Andre Barrowes and Errol Michaels brought extinguishers to the unit to quell the fire.
Tucker explained that the smoke got “as dark as midnight” and Barrowes and Michaels seemed to have disappeared in the building. It was at this point she remembered that Barrowes was asthmatic and became gravely concerned about his health. Fear came over Tucker once again. This time, Tucker remembered the words from Minister Kadesha Jenkins, a programme she had been listening to before coming to work that morning. What stuck with her were the words: “God is watching. No matter what you’re going through, God is watching you.”
She stood frozen in the passage, looking outside at the parents, looking at the staff inside, looking at the smoke and thinking of the child that was just admitted and said to herself “God is watching me”.
“I remember thinking of Colleen. I was saying ‘I can’t tell Colleen’s mother that I ran away and left her’. That’s when the courage came over me and I said to myself I’m just going to ride out this and just expect the best out of it,” Tucker explained.
By this time, the porters had managed to control the fire but the smoke was now moving into the actual unit. Even though the fire was being controlled, the smoke was getting worse. She explained that smoke inhalation is a complication that can cause long-term effects on both the staff and patients, so she quickly ran out for oxygen cylinders.
“I said to myself we need to get some oxygen cylinders so that the patients can breathe in fresh air while they are being transported, and if there’s a staff member that might have breathing issues they could have the oxygen cylinder to provide fresh air during the incident,” Tucker noted.
Then came her “army”, as she describes it.
She recalls looking around and seeing security guards, porters, parents and this is when she realised that she had a team with her fighting the fire.
Heading back to the ICU she remembered that the people in the building were basically trapped because the ICU was enclosed and therefore did not allow ventilation. That meant those inside were inhaling and exhaling the smoke while the concentration level was getting worse. She then decided to break the window at the front of the building to allow air inside. She would later jump through that window, carrying the oxygen cylinders inside. At this point, two of the patients had safely made their way outside of the ICU.
“I can imagine myself being in there. Not seeing where I can go, not breathing any fresh air. I know how that would feel because I work in the department and I know I didn’t want anybody to go through that experience by themselves,” Tucker said.
Once safely inside, she saw the doctors taking off the different attachments for the cardiac patients. What was scary about this experience for her though was that the patients were on adrenaline and inotropes and if for a second the inotropes switched off, that could have meant the death of that child.
“You’re between a rock and a hard place but you have to decide that the safest thing is to get the patients out, but get them out safely,” Tucker said.
But throughout the process, the thought of something exploding was constantly on her mind. She believed that even though the process was going quickly, at any minute something could go wrong that could have proved detrimental.
All four children were eventually transported from the ICU to the University Hospital of the West Indies.
She noted that other members of staff at the hospital also climbed through the window to offer assistance and that warmed her heart.
“That’s the thing that gave me so much hope. No matter what is happening, whether it is life or death, when it comes to babies, when it comes to children who are vulnerable, the staff members put their lives at risk,” Tucker said.
Above all, she thanks God for taking them through it.
Looking back, she said it could have been worse. It could have resulted in the death or collapse of a staff member or a child; the unit could have burnt down and the damage extended to the entire hospital, but God was on their side.
“When I looked at how comfortable the patients were after being placed in the top recovery, I was amazed. I was waiting for one of them to arrest, for one of them to have issues, stop breathing, heart start giving problem,” Tucker said.
But instead, they all turned out fine.
“Our profession is rough, yes. The benefit is rough, the payment is rough, but we can all work together to do good and that is what we did,” Tucker said.
Meanwhile, SERHA’S Public Relations Officer Taneisha Lewis told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that the ICU, which was closed after the fire, is expected to reopen later this week.