How 4 students became 'heroes' pitching in to evacuate patients in Brockton hospital fire
BROCKTON – When the fire alarm rang out early in Syleena Marrero's shift at her Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital internship roughly a month ago, she thought it was a drill. She continued, as planned, taking the vital signs of the eight patients assigned to her.
Then a man shouted through the halls of the floor that everyone needed to be evacuated.
When a 10-alarm fire broke out inside Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital on Feb. 7, more than 70 ambulances and hundreds of firefighters sped to the scene and 160 patients were displaced, some transferred to hospitals as far away as Brookline and Cape Cod. Even Gov. Maura Healey visited Brockton in the aftermath.
Although she said she couldn't smell smoke, the power on the third floor – and across the entire building – went out.
"I open the door and the whole hallway is black," said Marrero, a senior at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School in Easton who was completing her nursing assisting internship in the hospital's orthopedics department.
Marrero, along with Southeastern classmate Trinity Stinson Salmon – another senior nursing assisting student – are responsible for taking care of eight patients each. But that morning, in the chaotic darkness, they had to help their patients evacuate the building.
"I just felt so bad for the patients," Stinson Salmon said. "You just try to be as comforting as you can."
Meanwhile, Abby Mathieu and Khalia Darosa, two Southeastern nursing assisting seniors, were two floors above them in the hospital's telemetry ward.
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"At first, I was so confused," Darosa said.
Some of her patients said they smelled smoke. Soon after, Darosa could, too.
With no working elevator and limited light, the four students, who began working at the hospital in November, walked their patients down the stairwell to safety using their cellphone flashlights. They said their patients were confused, angry, hungry and tired. Some were screaming or crying and many couldn't speak English.
"My thought was just to get people out," said Marrero.
Students inside the hospital
While the chaos unfolded at the hospital, the staff at Southeastern Regional dealt with a crisis of their own: four students were working in an actively burning building.
"We wanted to make sure (the students) were safe," said Nanci Munro, a teacher in the school's nursing assisting program.
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After seeing the fire on the news, Munro quickly informed Mary Colby, the students' vocational supervisor. Colby and her team ferociously made calls to the students and their parents. Each student had already made contact with their families from inside the hospital.
Colby said the high school never before had students working on site when an emergency broke out. Although they didn't train the students on how to respond during a hospital fire, the teaching faculty encourage nursing assisting students to put their patients ahead of themselves whenever possible – skills that translated well to this emergency.
"The Southeastern students who assisted in the evacuation of (Signature Healthcare) Brockton Hospital represent the very best of who we are as a community," said Southeastern Superintendent Holly McClanan.
"Not only did they put into action the safety training and technical skill that they have learned through their vocational program, but they embodied the core values that define a Southeastern Hawk: personal accountability, work-readiness and kindness."
'We know what we're doing'
After two hours, all the students' patients were evacuated, and some returned to Southeastern. Darosa and Mathieu, however, finished the day's shift at a hospital across the street from Brockton Hospital.
Each student secured a temporary internship at various hospitals throughout the South Shore to finish out the semester, but all four students were invited to return to Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital once it's reopened.
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But the fire also served as a reminder to the students of the stressful healthcare environment they plan to enter upon graduation.
"It's not for everyone," said Stinson Salmon. "It helped us learn more about this career path."
The girls became state-certified nursing assistants during their junior year. All Southeastern nursing assisting students must obtain a CNA/HHA certification before graduating.
"We are students, but we know what we're doing," said Stinson Salmon.
With over 100 patients moved to other local hospitals, Good Samaritan Medical Center struggles to handle the large influx of patients, as their emergency room department has previously been overcrowded.
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"When you lose such a major hospital, you lose a lot of resources," said Stinson Salmon. "It's a huge loss for the community."
When Marrero went into work that morning, she wasn't expecting to help her patients escape from the hospital. But she came out that afternoon having saved lives.
"We're heroes," she said.
This article originally appeared on The Enterprise: Brockton hospital: Southeastern vocational students evacuated patients