What Causes Surgical Fires?

Picture of Close Up of IV in Operating Room

More than 250,000 people in the US are killed by medical mistakes each year. Countless others suffer injuries, some of which may be life-altering. Surgical fires, which occur around patients who are undergoing surgical procedures, are a type of medical mistake that is likely to cause catastrophic injuries. According to the ECRI Institute (formerly the Emergency Care Research Institute), there are an estimated 500 to 600 surgical fires each year.

Surgical fires can occur when a procedure utilizes flammable materials, ignition sources and oxidizers. Flammable materials may include surgical drapes, alcohol-based skin preparation agents and even the patient. Ignition sources can include lasers, electrosurgical units and fiberoptic light sources. Oxidizers may include oxygen or nitrous oxide.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) recommends hospitals utilize the following steps to prevent surgical fires. These steps include but are not limited to:

  1. Educating anesthesiologists on operating room fires (surgical fires). In addition, the ASA recommends holding regular drills on operating room fires.
  2. Determining beforehand whether a patient’s case will create a fire risk. If a risk is present, then teams should develop strategies before a procedure to prevent or manage a fire if one occurs.
  3. The ASA recommends multiple prevention techniques, such as avoiding the use of ignition sources in close proximity to oxidizers. There are multiple other suggestions on the ASA’s website.
  4. The ASA also has recommendations for managing fires. For example, hospital staff should recognize the early warning signs of a fire. There are also specific recommendations to prevent patients from being severely injured or killed if a fire occurs.

Are Surgical Fires Caused by Medical Malpractice?

Surgical fires can cause second or third-degree burns, including to the esophagus. In some cases, surgical fires are fatal. Medical mistakes that lead to surgical fires are generally preventable. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible for patients or their family members to recover compensation by filing medical malpractice lawsuits.

You can speak to a Washington DC medical malpractice lawyer at Regan Zambri Long PLLC to learn more about options for compensation after a medical mistake.

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