We describe a modified triage system used in managing a smoke inhalation mass casualty incident that we recently encountered at our community hospital.
Materials and methods
The patients were triaged as priority 1, 2 or 3 on the basis of their symptoms, signs and circumstances at scene. In addition, the use of fibre-optic examinations of the upper airway, chest radiography and carboxyhaemoglobin levels with arterial blood gas analyses were used to aid in disposal plans.
Of the 22 patients evacuated, 15 were triaged as priority 2 and the remaining seven as priority 3. None of the patients was identified as priority 1. All the priority 2 patients underwent further investigations. Those with mild upper airway oedema (four patients) or raised carboxyhaemoglobin levels (two patients) were admitted. Only one patient had both. Another patient who was a known asthmatic developed bronchospasm and was admitted as well. All six were admitted to the general ward with subsequent good recovery and were discharged within 3 days. The remaining nine priority 2 and seven priority 3 patients were discharged from the emergency department.
These modified triage criteria, with selective use of fibre-optic examinations, chest radiography and arterial blood gas analyses with carboxyhaemoglobin levels, are useful in smoke inhalation mass casualty incidents without dermal burns. Systemic injury and poisoning by toxic fumes often coexist with airway burns and should not be overlooked. Lastly, disaster planning and frequent drills at both local and national levels will optimize the response to future mass casualty incidents.