A Bad Time for a Fire: Surgical Fires in the Operating Room

During a fire, there is really no good place to be—except far, far away from the flames and smoke. On the other hand, there are definitely places you don’t want to be during a fire . . . and one of them is under anesthesia on the operating table!

What are Surgical Fires?

This might sound like a ridiculous, exaggerated scenario. But surgical fires, flash fires that occur during medical procedures, aren’t as rare as you might think. In fact, 600 surgical fires are reported every year and many of them result in serious injuries or even death. Since hospitals are not required to report instances of surgical fires, it’s possible that the number are even higher.

Surgical fires can occur for many reasons, including:

  • Improper use of medical equipment
  • Product malfunctions or defects
  • Inadequate communication among the surgical team
  • Improper behavior around flammable materials

Common Causes of Surgical Fires

For example, if a surgeon negligently leaves an overhead light on for too long, it could lead to a fire. Many times, fires are the result of miscommunication between surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other professionals in the operating room. For example, if a nurse fails to tell the surgeon that she has increased a patient’s oxygen levels, the surgeon could unknowingly turn on a fuel source in the highly combustive environment, leading to injuries.

Certain surgical equipment is also more likely to contribute to a surgical fire, including:

  • Defibrillators
  • Heated probes
  • Drills
  • Lasers
  • MRI machines
  • Heated blankets
  • IV solution bags

When a surgical fire is the result of a product, the manufacturer might be liable for any injuries. For instance, if a medical drill has a defect that makes it likely to spark during use, the third party who manufactured it might be liable if the sparks cause a surgical fire.

Is It Malpractice?

Other times, surgical fires might be a case of medical malpractice. Doctors, surgeons, and all other medical professionals have a duty to provide their patient’s with a reasonable standard of care, and this includes avoiding recklessness or negligence that could endanger the patient. If a surgical fire occurs as the result of miscommunication, error, or simple negligence, the injured patient or their family might have grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

If you or a loved one have an upcoming surgery, surgical fires might just seem like one more thing to worry about, but like any surgical danger or complication, it is something to keep in mind. Remember, though, that cases of surgical fires are exceedingly rare—and that if you have a supportive and dedicated team of medical professionals, everyone will be working hard to get you through your procedure.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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