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VA Hospital Fire Forces Evacuation

April 10, 1987

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A fire spewed toxic smoke through two floors of the Veteran’s Administration Hospital on Thursday, forcing evacuation of about 200 elderly men clad in gowns. One patient died after suffering a heart attack.

During the evacuation, one other patient suffered a heart attack, one a stroke and another a minor leg injury, but hospital officials refused to blame them on the emergency.

About 400 patients were in the hospital, which occupies almost an entire city block in the city’s central business district, said spokeswoman Laura Bishop.

Gregory Haag, the hospital’s director, estimated that as many as two-thirds of the hospital’s 356 patients might have been evacuated from the fifth through the 10th floors when the fire broke out just before 9 p.m. in an unoccupied ward.

It was brought under control about an hour later, said Fire Chief William McCrossen.

″I do know there was enough smoke in that building - and I’m talking about toxic smoke now - to kill everybody in it,″ said McCrossen.

″You had an extremely dangerous and serious situation on hand.″

McCrossen said he did not know what was burning.

One heart attack victim died at nearby Hotel Dieu hospital, according to officials of the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office, who refused to identify the man, saying only that he had been treated for cancer.

All four of the stricken patients were in stable condition, Dr. Sam Threefoot, the hospital’s chief of staff, said late Thursday night.

As many as 60 firefighters were called to the scene. The units were dispatched at 8:49 p.m. and the fire reached four alarms about 45 minutes later.

″I don’t know exactly what was burning, but it got into the walls,″ McCrossen said. ″I understand they were doing renovations and apparently the fire started in a wall in the fifth floor.″

Smoke filled both the fifth and sixth floors, he said.

Preston Trahan, 66, of Kaplan, La., said smoke was coming onto the fifth floor, where his room was located.

″It was pretty thick and they had to shut the fifth double doors because the smoke was moving in just like a fog,″ Trahan said.

Some patients, in beds and wheelchairs, were receiving medication intravenously in a crowded corridor of the new addition. One patient, suffering from a heart condition, was given oxygen.

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