Heroic measures praised during the Fort McMurray hospital evacuation

Click to play video: 'How the Fort McMurray hospital was evacuated' How the Fort McMurray hospital was evacuated
WATCH ABOVE: One of the buildings in Fort McMurray that was challenging to evacuate was the hospital. It took a lot of coordination, but they managed to do it. Nancy Carlson reports. – May 9, 2016

EDMONTON – There’s a group of lesser-known heroes in Fort McMurray we haven’t heard from until today.

They’re the staff at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, who put aside their own fears during the evacuation crisis last Tuesday, to instead evacuate over 100 patients from the hospital. And it all happened in less than two hours.

“Kudos to the staff that stayed,” Pam Lund, the hospital’s emergency department and ICU manager, said. “It’s not easy to do when your kids are out there.”

Lund said panic regarding the seriousness of the situation outside the hospital slowly began creeping in Tuesday, as the wildfire began to infiltrate the city.

“My biggest challenge was trying to keep the staff in the hospital because people were leaving,” Monique James, the director of patient care at the Fort McMurray hospital, said.

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“They were panicked. I had nurses coming to me crying because their kids were in daycare and they wanted to leave and I’m looking at them thinking, ‘what do I say? You have to stay.'”

As the situation grew worse, hospital leaders knew they were going to have to evacuate.

“A lot of our nurses had internal struggles because they had children whose areas were being evacuated. {The children} were in school and husbands were working out at the plant sites,” Lund said. “So there was a huge internal struggle for many of us – myself included – to stay at the hospital and get the patients out and just focus on the job that needed to be done.”

The biggest concern inside the hospital was the ICU along with the continuing-care unit on the fourth floor.

“We have a total of 30 patients on that floor, they’re all wheelchair bound. So we were trying to pre-plan ahead,” James said.

A plan was made to move the elderly patients to the main floor that afternoon and prepare for evacuation.

“I think that was one of the best decisions we made, they were ready if we had to leave in a hurry,” James added.

The situation was changing so rapidly that a decision was made to evacuate north to Firebag.

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“We had so many people come together,” James said. “I knew we had enough force to evacuate but the staff that I felt really needed to leave– we looked at each other and said ‘we have to let them go.'”

James shared her own fears that day: “I have a 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son and they were both in school and my daughter actually called me and said ‘Mom, I want to come home.’ I was trying to keep them calm,” she added.

“The schools went into lockdown so she couldn’t get out. I said, ‘Dad’s going to take care of you– you’ll be fine– Mommy’s busy at the hospital.'”

Health officials also praised Hero, a private helicopter company that has transported many patients in the past. A chopper was on scene within minutes to help transport the hospital’s only ICU patient on a ventilator.

“There were many, many heroes among us that were able to focus and do the work that needed to be done,” Lund said.

Health officials describe the emergency evacuation of the Fort McMurray hospital during Tuesday’s wildfire. Global News

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