Woman's Death Brings OR Fires to Light


Janice Diane McCall, 65, had surgery at Heartland Regional Medical Center in Marion, IL on September 2. HIPPA prevents too many details from being released, but McCall suffered injuries that day unrelated to her medical reason from being in the OR. She was a victim of a rare occurrence – a fire in the operating room.

McCall was transferred to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, TN for burn care. She died there six days after the surgical fire that caused her thermal burn injuries.

According to a news release issued by Heartland Regional, the accidental fire was immediately extinguished by operating room personnel. No one else in the operating room suffered any injuries.

Marion Fire Chief Jack Reed and hospital administrators are reported to be reviewing the possible origins of the flash fire. "We will try to ascertain the origin of the fire and what fueled it," Reed said.

According to ECRI Institute, a group that tracks these fires, about 550-650 surgical fires happen every year. That's out of 65 million surgeries nationwide. Less than 0.05% result in serious injury. Only one or two result in death.


Hospitals and operating room staff take the prevention of flash fires in the OR seriously. The OR is a source of the three things a fire needs (the fire triangle): combustible materials, heat sources, and oxygen.

Around 75% of the OR flash fires occur when high oxygen levels are present under surgical sheets or drapes. The second most common flash fire happens when surgery staff use alcohol cleaning agents.

Care must be taken by the operating room staff to control the “fire triangle”. The prep solution must be given adequate time to dry (2-3 minutes) - especially if there is alcohol in the solution. Towels and sponges are dampened when used around lasers and hyperthermia units. Care is taken to prevent oxygen build-up under tented drapes.

When possible room air or less than or equal to 30% oxygen is used, depending on patient needs.

Materials from TheSouthern.com and ECRI Institute are used in this report.

Written by Ramona Bates, MD
Little Rock, Arkansas
Exclusive to eMaxHealth