Hospital, Surgical & Durable Medical Equipment Fires

Exponent has broad experience with the biomedical system design/analysis, the hospital, and surgical environment. We assist our clients with:

  • Thermal testing and analysis
  • Third party engineering design reviews
  • Loss investigations
  • Third-party evaluations, research& development
  • Process safety/hazard assessments
  • Risk assessment
  • Medical technology assessment
  • Fire and flammability testing
  • Fire protection engineering.

Our capabilities include fire investigations, system failure analyses, facility inspections and safety audits, and failure consequence modeling. We can model means of egress effectiveness, smoke evacuation and control, fire suppression system performance and human behavior. We can also assist your in-house staff with regulatory compliance. In addition, Exponent provides post-incident root-cause analysis and litigation support when needed.

Surgical Fires

Surgical fires often involve combustible materials such as gowns, tape, or gauze, which are typically exposed to an oxygen-rich atmosphere. The resulting fires can be expensive and result in patient injury, as well as and damage to hospital operating room suites. Fire damage to an operating room suite can require specialized cleanup and reconstruction, which can affect hospital operations.

Surgery poses several unique challenges. Lasers and electrosurgical tools are used to cut, cauterize, or vaporize tissue in many procedures. The ignition temperature of ordinary combustible materials is significantly lowered in the presence of medical oxygen sources. Surgical instruments can produce heat and sparks in or near areas where oxygen is being delivered. Waste anesthetic gas disposal systems can pose a fire or explosion hazard if not properly connected and adjusted. Antiseptic, disinfecting and sterilization materials, ubiquitous in the surgical theater, are yet another fuel source to consider. The medical gas supply systems, vacuum, ventilation, and waste systems need to be properly managed and maintained in order to minimize fire risk.

Hospital operating rooms must comply with a variety of safety standards and guides, including:


  • NFPA 10 – Standard for Fire Extinguishers
  • NFPA 13 – Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems
  • NFPA 25 – Standard for the Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based fire Protection Systems
  • NFPA 50 – Standard for Bulk Oxygen Systems at Consumer Sites
  • NFPA 70 – National Electrical Code
  • NFPA 72 – National Fire Alarm Code
  • NFPA 99 – Standard for Health Care Facilities
  • NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code

Several guidance documents also apply:


  • JCAH – Joint Commission Accreditation Hospital
  • JCAHO – Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
  • Association of PeriOperative Registered Nurses (AORN)

Durable Medical Equipment Fires

Medical devices typically contain a number of electro-mechanical and chemical systems and power sources. Power can be supplied to an actuating mechanism, or fluids and gases can be handled through compression, dispersion or valving. The devices typically contain items that include foamed padding and/or structural plastics. All of these things in combination present an energy source for ignition, fuel and oxidizer – good conditions for fire ignition and propagation.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that home medical oxygen is a factor in approximately 1190 thermal burns annually (source: http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/pdf/os.oxygen.pdf -page 2). Systems used in the delivery of medical oxygen offer unique challenges. Combustible materials typically burn faster in the presence of oxygen. These systems are, in many cases, used continuously by patients with compromised lung capacity. This presents a challenge to deliver the proper oxygenation, which may present a heightened hazard if the patient uses the device while smoking or cooking.

Hospital Fires

Hospitals are subject to some of the most stringent life safety codes and inspections. However, a fire at a hospital can result in complications to delivery of care to patients. Hospital fire suppression and smoke control systems are complicated and rely on reliable power, consistent maintenance, and a series of interdependent systems operating together in order to function reliably. Emergency means of evacuation or area-of-refuge strategies also rely on the integrity of building systems for tenability. Failure of any one of these systems can result in patient injury, property damage, or limitations to the environment of care.

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