Newport News — When smoke started pouring from a closet at Riverside Regional Medical Center, nurses stowed babies in pockets on a cart on wheels and evacuated the neonatal intensive care unit.

The babies were actually dolls and the smoke was from smoke machines. It was part of a fire evacuation drill Wednesday at the hospital.

"Part of being prepared for an emergency, we have to practice our skills," said Peter Glagola, Riverside's director of public relations.

The drill started shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday.

"I see smoke. I'm pulling the alarm," a staffer on the neonatal intensive care unit said.

"May I have your attention. A code red has been activated in your area. Please stand by for further instructions from staff," the loudspeaker announced.

Staff stuffed six dolls into pockets on a cart and wheeled them to another part of the building. Dolls representing full-term babies were stowed in four large pockets in white robes worn by some nurses.

Meanwhile, smoke infiltrated another floor, where students from New Horizons' EMT class acted as patients who needed help being evacuated. Riverside staffers and Newport News firefighters strapped patients in evacuation chairs equipped with tank-like tracks to go down stairs. Other patients were strapped in paraslides, or specially designed body-length cardboard boxes used to slide patient down stairs.

"That was pretty crazy coming down the stairs," said Shelby Paulsen, 17, a Bruton High School senior who played the role of a paralyzed patient.

Drills like this are a chance for firefighters and staff to practice what would happen in a real emergency, Glagola said. The drill did not interrupt normal hospital operations.


Published: November 3, 2010