Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where There Is Fire... There May Be A Smoker!

I was working the night shift at the small town hospital as the Director of Respiratory Therapy. The night shift only required one therapist, so I was performing the routine therapies for patients requiring therapy through the night. It was a slow night and we did not have many patients requiring therapy. This slow night would suddenly be broken up with an emergency situation that I had not encountered before. My pager sounded off, and I called the operator to be informed that there was a fire in the Emergency Room parking lot. I asked if they had already called the local Fire Department, and they stated that they had, so I headed for the Emergency Room parking lot.

Now I should explain that at the time in this small hospital, the respiratory therapist duties often included areas that were certainly outsider the normal duties of a respiratory therapist. At this time the night duty respiratory therapist would not only be responsible for the respiratory care of the patients, but would also be called for security issues, and in charge of monitoring the boiler room, and we were also to respond to fires.

As I headed for the sliding doors providing access to the parking lot, I grabbed the fire extinguisher from the wall. In the parking lot, I locate a vehicle that has smoke coming out of the hood. I check inside the car to confirm there was nobody in the vehicle. Now to deal with the fire. I peered into the grill of the vehicle and could see some small flames. It was an older vehicle and I would be able to pop the hood if it was not too hot. I released the hood and it popped up enough for me to be able to direct the fire extinguisher at the flames. A short blast from the extinguisher and the flames went out.... but seconds later re-ignited.

The fire did not look large and did not look to be spreading fast, so I just kept dousing the flames when they would re-ignite, trying to avoid depleting the extinguisher. I could hear the sirens of the local fire department on their way. As soon as they arrived they quickly took over and were able to completely extinguish the fire.

I headed back into the Hospital with the spent fire extinguisher. I needed to bring a new fire extinguisher in the Emergency Room, so I was off to maintenance to exchange the extinguisher. There was nobody on duty in maintenance, (curiously that was also a duty of respiratory therapy at night... checking the boiler room of all things) so I left a note on the spent fire extinguisher stating that I had used it on the car fire in the parking lot. But as I was leaving maintenance, the mischievous light went on in my head and thought I could write a better note than what I had left.

Now it would help if you understood that the hospital had just recently enacted a long needed "No Smoking" policy throughout the hospital. I had battled for this policy for many years, and had butted heads with a particular nurse, (I will call her Ethel) who battled for years for her right to smoke in the hospital. So, I felt it might be appropriate to have a bit of fun.

I wrote another note to be attached to the spent fire extinguisher for morning maintenance shift. "Maintenance- I caught Ethel smoking in one of the bathrooms and I used this on her." I signed my name and left to finish my shift figuring the director of maintenance would enjoy my little joke.

I was at home asleep when the phone rang. It was the respiratory therapist on duty, and she stated that I needed to come in right away to talk with the Hospital Administrator. She explained that the director of nursing was very upset about the incident last night and was seeking to have me fired. She continued, explaining that I needed to come in right away to speak with the Hospital Administrator about the incident last night. I looked at the clock. It was 11:00 in the morning and I had only been asleep for a few hours. What the heck! I put out a fire, and my job is being threatened?

So I am on my way to visit the Hospital Administrator and I am perplexed as to how my putting out a fire would be a problem. The Administrator's secretary tells me to go on in, and I am instructed to have a seat next to the director of nurses and the director of maintenance. The Hospital Administrator explains the reason for calling me in was about the incident last night.... going on he expressed deep regret that I would use a fire extinguisher on one of our personnel. I looked at him try to see any hint of a grin. He looked serious. Then I looked at the directors of nursing and maintenance and they were stone faced as well. The director of maintenance was holding "The Note" in his hand.

This had to be a joke! A grand plot to pay me back for my little joke. Were they serious? Apparently so. The directors of maintenance and nursing had spent most of the morning searching the bathrooms to find the room where this evil deed had been perpetrated. They could not find the evidence and they were upset about having to spend their morning looking in all the bathrooms. They were very upset. They were sure they should have been able to find the residue left by the fire extinguisher.

I asked them if they had spoken to Ethel. They had not. I asked them if they were aware of the fire that had occurred in the parking lot early in the morning. They stated that they were aware of that. Had they heard that I had put out the fire with a hospital fire extinguisher. They stated that they had. It was still obvious they were not seeing the connection.

So I started explaining to them that my note was placed in an effort to make what I thought would be a harmless but funny joke. I apologized and stated that I did not think that anyone would take it serious. They continued to not see the humor.

The Hospital Administrator dismissed the nursing and the maintenance directors, so that he could speak to me personally. Standing up, he stated that my note was not according to policy and highly recommended that I refrain from such practice. I stated that I would... He then leaned over his desk towards me, and remarked in a hushed voice... I did think that was pretty funny though, and gave me a wink.

My 25 years working in hospital settings has made it very clear. There is nothing like a long night shift in the hospital to elicit some high jinx and practical jokes. I guess it is what I would call the ultimate in "Gallows Humor". I have a number of other curious tales from the night shift that I will share in the future.

Related Links
National Board for Respiratory Care
Fire Safety
American Lung Association

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