Wildfire Forces Medical Center Evacuation

One of the wildfires in Southern California burned the edge of the Olive View-UCLA Medical Center campus. Power was knocked out and officials were forced to evacuate two dozen critical patients. Carla Nino, assistant hospital administrator, talks with Renee Montagne about how the evacuation went.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A hospital in Sylmar, the Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, was one place that saw its buildings go up in flames early Saturday. The fire tore through administrative buildings and the hospital's day care center, and the power went out. Choking smoke seeped into the hospital, which held more than 200 patients. Some were evacuated. Most stayed put. Assistant hospital administrator Carla Nino was there. Good morning.

Ms. CARLA NINO (Assistant Administrator, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Tell us where you were when the hospital lost power and all that smoke started coming in.

Ms. NINO: I got to the hospital at one o'clock in the morning, and we were making decisions then in the command center to move out, evacuate, the critical care patients. You know, the nursing staff was manually manipulating their ventilators to make sure that they still breathed as the paramedics were taking gurneys down the stairwells to get them into ambulances to other area hospitals. It was really, truthfully, well-orchestrated.

MONTAGNE: And the patients - obviously the ones that were very critically ill, you wanted to get out. But the others who stayed, how did they react?

Ms. NINO: Well, basically, we have a system where we can close the dampers so that the majority of the smoke did not come into the hospital itself.

MONTAGNE: Well, I think people who aren't from here, like we are, and haven't lived through this, they - flames that you see in these fires, and I think out there in Sylmar, they are often like a wall - many feet - you know, stories-high wall of flames.

Ms. NINO: Absolutely. They were just so intense. It was going 60 miles an hour raging through our campus. And as you said, it destroyed our day care center. These are all the exterior buildings to the hospital itself.

MONTAGNE: Well now, you just had gone through - we here in Southern California had just gone through an earthquake drill just two days before this fire there in Sylmar.

Ms. NINO: We had. And I think it was just coincidental. We also, if you remember, in Los Angeles, the Sayre Fire - was about a month ago - had stopped only like between two and a half and three miles from our hospital. So we were already in disaster mode then.

MONTAGNE: But it sounds like everything in this case - we can all be thankful for - worked. Did you take in any patients after the hospital lost power?

Ms. NINO: Actually, we had one woman come in who was in labor, and she delivered a baby after the lights came back on. But she was in labor during that whole time. We had a couple of our county police who had to have their eyes cleaned out because of the smoke.

MONTAGNE: Was this all happening in the hospital while there were, in a sense, flames all around you, buildings burning in other parts of the hospital, of the medical center?

Ms. NINO: Absolutely. The hospital itself is a glass and metal structure. We did have some embers up on the roof that came from the fire. The firefighters and our facility staff made sure that they were constantly watering it down so that there was no danger of fire to that hospital building. We'd look at this as a situation where even without power, there was no compromise. All the patients were handled successfully, without any issues.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. NINO: OK.

MONTAGNE: Carla Nino is an assistant hospital administrator at the Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar, California.

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