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Second fire breaks out at hospital
'Almost exact duplicate' of previous call at NMC

COVINGTON - A fire erupted on the third floor of Newton Medical Center on Friday but was quickly extinguished by Covington Fire Department firefighters.

This is the second fire to occur on the third floor, which is being remodeled, in less than a month.

Friday's fire "was almost an exact duplicate of the prior call" that occurred on June 23, according to CFD Public Information Officer Capt. Rob Christopher.

Both fires were found inside the wall of utility rooms, having been ignited by sparks generated by welding taking place in the construction area. In both instances, firefighters had to remove sheetrock to get inside the walls to extinguish the fires.

Firefighters got the call at about 11:13 a.m. and the fire was extinguished by 11:29 a.m., Christopher said.

The same shift of firefighters that put out the June 23 call were on duty Friday, and used their prior experience to get a quick containment time, Christopher said.

Nearby areas of the hospital were evacuated and damage was confined to the utility room, Christopher said.

"The Fire Marshal's office will be visiting the hospital and speaking with the contractor and giving recommendations and expressing our concerns about this being the second time around," Christopher said. "We'll be giving recommendations about how to prevent the same thing from happening again"

According to NMC Director of Engineering Neal Sumner, a "Code Red" was broadcast using the hospital's overhead page system by the Emergency Department registrar after an internal alert system indicated a fire condition on the third floor.

Sumner said he immediately notified the fire department after verifying there was, in fact, a fire.

Firefighters cleared the scene at 11:50 a.m. and by 12:10 p.m. the Code Red all clear was sounded.

Choate, the construction contractor, was to furnish personnel to be used for a fire watch starting Friday and running until 8 a.m. today, and NMC staff will also be making additional patrols of the area, Sumner said.

"At no time during this incident were patients, visitors or staff at any risk," Sumner said. "Essential staff and managers were kept informed at all times. This incident has been discussed with the construction project manager and additional precautions will be implemented for all future welding."

NMC Spokeswoman Sharon Barbour previously told the Citizen that the area undergoing construction will be a new hospital lab. The space for the present lab, located on the first floor adjacent to the emergency room, will be taken in as part of the planned expansion for the ER.

News Editor Barbara Knowles contributed to this story.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.