The Cleveland Clinic Fire

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The Cleveland Clinic is consistently rated one of the top hospitals in the nation. However, just eight years after first opening their doors the clinic was faced with a disaster that would change firefighting forever.

In the early 1900s one of the most popular ways to store medial information was on a medium called “Nitrocellulose Film.” Developed by Kodak, this type of film was lightweight and inexpensive. It was also extremely flammable. On May 15, 1929, staff at the Cleveland Clinic noticed a leak in a steam pipe in the basement where their records were kept. They contacted the repairman, but he was unable to find the source of the leak. Several hours later, the steam became serious enough to begin melting the film. This caused several explosions that would send highly toxic gas through the hospital.

Firefighters arrived immediately on the scene, but were unable to enter the building due to the poisonous fumes. Some of the staff and patients were able to escape via raised ladders and spread life nets, however the 123 that breathed the gas would instantly perish.

The disaster at the Cleveland Clinic was unprecedented in its time, and led officials to establish a number of safeguards to prevent such a disaster in the future such as hazardous material storage standards, and standard-issue gas masks.

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