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Portage hospital backup generator fails in outage; three patients evacuated

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A power outage early this morning at Porter Portage Hospital Campus forced the evacuation of three long-term critical care patients when an emergency backup generator failed.

Portage Assistant Fire Chief Mike Bucy told the Chesterton Tribune today that the three patients were transported “without compromise” to the Intensive Care Unit at Porter Valparaiso Hospital Campus. Seven other patients had been prioritized for evacuation but a crew from the Northern Indiana Public Service Company had power restored before they could be transported.

All 10 of the patients were receiving care on the third floor of the Portage Hospital Campus in space used by Regency Health Care.

According to a statement released by Porter hospital just before deadline, Portage Hospital Campus has two emergency backup generators, each of which supplies power to 50 percent of the hospital and both of which successfully activated when power was lost. One of them, however, “subsequently overheated and went off line.”

“Today the systems at Portage Hospital Campus are functioning and the malfunctioning generator is going to be replaced,” the statement said.

When exactly the outage occurred is unclear. Porter hospital put the time at 12:30 a.m., NIPSCO at 1:53 a.m., the Portage Fire Department says at around 2 a.m. Whenever it occurred, though, the blackout in the patient block of the hospital was total, Bucy said, and a combination of pitch darkness and high humidity caused by the failure of the emergency backup generator made the evacuation difficult.

For one thing, Bucy said, the three patients were all on ventilators and had to be kept flat and immobilized during their removal down two flights of stairs. Firefighters ended up backboarding them, he said.

And though the South Haven Volunteer Fire Department responded to the scene and was able to provide some portable emergency lighting, Bucy noted, its firefighters could do nothing to ventilate a building which, in the absence of working central air, became increasingly hot and stuffy. “It was thick in there,” he said.

Power was restored to the hospital at 3:28 a.m., NIPSCO spokesman Jim Fitzer said, and all evidence points to a lightning strike somewhere in the area of the hospital as the cause of the outage. “We did get hit with some pretty violent lightning over that way.”

Fitzer refused to speculate on why the hospital’s emergency backup generator overheated. “It’s customer owned,” he noted. “It’s their piece of equipment.”

In addition to assistance from the SHVFD, Bucy said, several other departments went to standby status to back up the PFD. Porter EMS was on the scene, he added, and Superior Ambulance made several ambulances available for the evacuation.


Posted 8/6/2006