Why did Olive View Medical's power fail?

SYLMAR, Calif. The fire burned within a few yards of the building. A sign and some shrubbery were burned. When the Los Angeles Division of Water & Power (LADWP) had a power outage during the fire, the hospital's backup generator kicked in, but it lasted less than an hour. It should have been able to last for as long as a week.

The fire burned a path of destruction across the Olive View UCLA Medical Center campus. Trailers where old medical records and financial records were stored are a total loss, along with the employee childcare center. Doctors on duty that night quickly realized the fire would soon threaten the main building.

"The wind indicator was basically showing that the fire was coming this way. So we knew we had a limited amount of time and what we were trying to do was basically try and discharge as many patients as we could," said Olive View emergency-room staffer Dr. Luis Lovata.

But the power went out. The hospital's backup generator finally kicked in, but lasted only 45 minutes. The co-generation plant should have been functioning as a third source but it too failed, leaving doctors and patients in the dark.

"We knew what we had available and we knew we could make do with what we had. Everybody was really working together to try and fix the situation," said emergency-room staffer Dr. Greg Moran.

Their first priority: Transporting 18 babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and nine adults. Some patients were on ventilators. With no electricity for elevators or the ventilators, doctors had to get them down the stairs on a sled-type of device and manually get air into their lungs.

"This is basically just a low-tech way to bridge them over. When the power fails we can just squeeze this balloon and we can just push the oxygen into their lungs and breathe for them," said Dr. Moran.

The fire left the main building untouched. Olive View is now trying to pinpoint the root cause of its power failure.

"The pump to the generator failed. We are doing an investigation," said hospital spokesperson Carla Nino. "We are working with the Department of Public Works and we are going to be bringing in an independent contractor so we have a really clear evaluation."

And doctors say that all the patients who are transported are fine, including two sets of twins and one set of triplets. Olive View said it does routine maintenance basically weekly. And they had done so as recently as Wednesday, the day before California's statewide earthquake drill.

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