When patients are being prepared for surgery, the last thing on their mind is the risk of a fire in the operating room.
At MD Anderson − and a small, but increasing number of institutions nationwide − patients should know that there are people like Charles Cowles, M.D., who think about safety issues such as operating room fires every day, and dedicate themselves to making them an even rarer occurrence than they already are.
Cowles is chief safety officer for MD Anderson's Perioperative Enterprise and an anesthesiologist. As a former firefighter and paramedic with the Beaumont, Texas Fire Department for 14 years, Cowles brings a unique perspective to the role.
Cowles reports that there are roughly 550-650 surgical fires nationwide annually, many which result in severe burns, disfigurement or death. Most patients are unaware of the risks and many surgeons and nurses are not formally trained in handling a fire emergency, he says, but the good news is that the issue is gaining attention nationally.
All this week Cowles and his team have been giving training sessions, running drills and calling attention to the risks of fire in an OR. He says the operating rooms host components of the "fire triangle" that can spark surgical fires any time these elements are present. They include: