To: Head of Fire Departments
From: Stephen D. Coan, State Fire Marshal
Date: July 1, 2005
Re: Safety Alert

Massachusetts State Police Investigators assigned to the Office of State Fire Marshal working in conjunction with local fire investigators have been made aware of a rash of fires occurring in hospitals as a result of the improper disposal of battery powered cauterizing tools.

Investigators have learned these fires are occurring when these units are discarded without the proper safety cover in place over the tip and activation switch. The weight of additional refuse placed on top of the unprotected unit activates the unit's ON switch, causing the cautery tip to heat to a temperature sufficient to ignite any combustible materials (trash). (Weinstein Safety Alert May 17 th 2005)

It is imperative to keep the safety cap for each disposable electrocautery unit used during procedures and replace the cap before disposing of the unit.

Four steps to preventing these fires…

  • Retrain surgeons and other operating room staff about the proper disposal procedures for the cordless electrocautery device. This includes first breaking the tip of the device (this interrupts the heating filament circuit so that it can not be activated) and then recapping the device (which prevents the on button from being activated.
  • Provide intensive and more "hands-on" type of fire safety for operating room staff.
  • Provide additional training to all hospital staff about the importance of pulling the alarm station at the first sign of smoke/fire.
  • Purchase fire-rated sharps disposal containers, which will be used exclusively for these devices. (Weinstein June 16 th 2005)

*This office would like to thank Steve Weinstein Safety Manager Emerson Hospital, Concord, MA for his research into these cordless disposable battery powered electrocautery devices and the accompanying safety tips.

Composite photo of three disposable battery powered electrocautery devices.