By Lee Hughes
Staff Reporter 

Area firefighters respond to Eastern State Hospital

No fire; smoke from contractors saw sets off alarm


August 8, 2019

Firefighters from multiple agencies were dispatched to Eastern State Hospital for a reported commercial structure fire in the northwest wing of the hospital at 12:11 p.m., Wednesday, July 31 — only to find there was no fire.

Medical Lake Fire Chief Jason Mayfield, on his way out of town for vacation, turned around to respond to the call and was the first on scene, according to department spokesman Capt. Jake Kirwin.

Seeing no obvious smoke when he arrived, Mayfield began a standard 360-degree review of the buildings exterior before being notified by hospital staff that there was smoke on the second floor, and that evacuations were underway in other parts of the hospital, according to Kirwin.

Firefighters from Medical Lake and Spokane County Fire District 10 arrived and entered the building, locating where a small fire had ignited but extinguished by construction personnel working in the area.

Firefighters then used a thermal imaging camera to scan and examine the area for any extension of heat, according to Kirwin.

“They did not locate any,” Kirwin said.

Firefighters from Medical Lake, Spokane County Fire Districts 3 and 10, Airway Heights and Cheney fire departments responded under an auto-aid agreement.

“For our automatic aid agreements for commercial structure fires we get all of those agencies involved,” Kirwin said. “Because we can’t do it alone.”

While patients were not in any danger, there were some limited evacuations.

“There was some movement of the patients inside the building to ensure their safety,” Mark Kettner, chief executive officer of the hospital said.

The origin of the alarm was in the hospital’s northwest wing, currently being renovated by contractors.

“Someone was apparently using a Skill Saw-type tool and basically it got too hot and started burning the wood,” Dean Davis, director of facilities, said of the fires origin. “There was no flame, it was just more friction … and started smoking.”

The hospital, Davis said, is divided into “smoke compartments” within each ward that are separated by floor to ceiling, two-hour-rated firewalls. In the event of a fire alarm, patients are moved to an adjacent smoke compartment where they “defend in-place.”

A determination is then made regarding further evacuations based on either fire department instructions, or if there is an obvious danger to patients, Davis said.

“If it’s flaming up huge we’re going to get the patients as far away fire as we can in a safe manner and put them in a safe position where no harm can come to them,” Davis said.

In the case of this alarm there were two, two hour-rated walls between the site of the alarm and a populated ward, he said.

The renovation is one outcome of a 2015 federal class action lawsuit, Trueblood v Washington State, where it was found that the constitutional rights of thousands of people awaiting trial were being violated as they languished in local county lockups awaiting court-mandated mental health competency evaluations and restorative services.

The court ordered the state Department of Social and Health Services to transfer and psychologically evaluate people facing charges within seven to 14 days after a judge determined the need for competency or other mental health evaluations.

The construction work involves renovation of two different, 25-bed wards to meet those needs.

By coincidence, the Medical Lake Fire Department and Spokane County Fire District 3 had conducted a routine walk-through of the facility the week before.

Lee Hughes can be reached at


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