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news News Tuesday, December 5, 2017 Tuesday, December 5, 2017 12:17 PM - Tuesday, December 5, 2017 12:17 PM

Boston nurses go inside a real fire to better understand their patients

Boston nurses collaborate with Yarmouth Fire Department to better understand patients’ traumatic experiences

As experts at the only exclusively pediatric verified burn center in New England, the clinicians at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston treat children with the most severe burn injuries. Some of those children are burned in frightening home or building fires. While the staff provides the best possible care, few actually understand what it is like to survive a fire. Last year, two nurses from the Boston Shriners Hospital, Diana Buterbaugh and Tammy Noble, had the opportunity to collaborate with the Yarmouth, Massachusetts Fire Department during a live fire training exercise. The nurses and firefighters were able to exchange knowledge and skill sets during the live fire simulation related to firefighting, rescue operations and emergency burn care.

It was a life-changing experience for the nurses and one that gave them a deeper understanding of the psychological trauma burn patients endure before they are ever admitted to the hospital.

Diana shared their experience in the following testimonial:

As we waited for the gate to open at Barnstable Burn Academy, my mind was racing. I felt a sense of excitement mixed with anxiety. Lt. Roberts walked Tammy and me through what the morning was going to look like. As we headed for the firehouse to don our equipment, my stomach turned. I waited 17 years for an opportunity to see what our patients and firefighters go through at the scene. I could only imagine how the experience would forever change a child from both a psychological and physical standpoint. Neil, one of the fire academy instructors, was very patient as he carefully assisted us in selecting our equipment. A short while later we were off to participate in a live fire training exercise. 

As I walked to the tall gray cement building, the weight of the suit and regulator tank seemed to increase. I felt awkward and clumsy, and was having trouble moving quickly. Neil told us when it was time to put our masks on. Instantly the world shrank. The very nature of the mask causes your field of vision to decrease. Moving into the dark black room, the only light was from a nearby flashlight and the fluorescent band on Neil’s air tank in front of me. A pile of straw was lit on fire, growing quickly into what appeared to be a living creature, extending up the walls of the building and crawling across the ceiling. Within moments, the room was filled with smoke so dense I could not see my hands outstretched in front of me and the intense heat warmed my body despite the heavy suit.

The exercise involved rescuing a victim on both the first and second floor. Neil was stationed on the second floor with Tammy while I went with another firefighter, Mike, to the first floor. Tammy stood in the 2nd floor corner, away from the flames, watching the fire grow. The smoke was so thick she found it hard to see the room. In the distance she could make out voices mixed with loud banging. The vibrations were felt through the floor. It felt like an eternity before firefighters entered the room. When the firefighters finally gained access, the fire had grown so hot and large that it was hard for Tammy to contain her anxiety despite Neil’s presence just a few feet away.

I found a similar experience on the first floor. Mike lit the fire while I stood a few feet away in the corner of the room. It was dark as smoke rose from the fire and quickly filled the room. Soon the light became so vibrant, giving way to intense colors flickering up. I saw soot suspended, floating slowly throughout the room. The intense heat caused me to feel slightly panicked, as it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. The first firefighters on the scene stayed low as they descended the stairs. Communication was tough to make out given the sounds that surrounded us. The firefighters’ first sight was of the large fire overtaking the room. They worked quickly and once the fire was extinguished, the team searched the room for possible victims, their bodies low, and their hands continuously following the wall to ensure a thorough search. Once a victim was found, the firefighters called for assistance. In order to rescue the victim, the team had to carry the person out of the smoke filled structure without adequate vision.

Tammy and I found this experience both amazing and terrifying. Every day, we go to work where we struggle to keep children with burn injuries alive. We depend on our team of dedicated professionals to improve patient outcomes but our lives do not depend on how the team functions. This experience showed us what our patients go through prior to admission, as well as how firefighters rely on each other to stay safe and ensure their own survival. These brave men and women put their lives at risk every day to ensure our safety. If it weren’t for them, we would not have the opportunity to care for children who have suffered flame burns and help them heal and go on to live happy, healthy lives. 

Tammy and I found the Yarmouth firefighters to be kind and supportive, always ensuring our safety while patiently explaining why and how things were done. They gave us an amazing gift, an insight that we could never have otherwise obtained. We are forever grateful for their time and sacrifice.

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