Black Saturday: the immediate impact of the February 2009 bushfires in Victoria, Australia

6 July 2009

This report examines the response of the Victorian State Trauma System to the February 2009 bushfires.

It provides a retrospective review of the strategic response required to treat patients with bushfire-related injury in the first 72 hours of the Victorian bushfires that began on 7 February 2009. Emergency department (ED) presentations and initial management of patients presenting to the state’s adult burns centre (The Alfred Hospital [The Alfred]) were analysed, as well as injuries and deaths associated with the fires.

Results:

There were 414 patients who presented to hospital EDs as a result of the bushfires. Patients were triaged at the emergency scene, at treatment centres and in hospital. National and statewide burns disaster plans were activated. Twenty-two patients with burns presented to the state’s burns referral centres, of whom 18 were adults. Adult burns patients at The Alfred spent 48.7 hours in theatre in the first 72 hours. There were a further 390 bushfire-related ED presentations across the state in the first 72 hours. Most patients with serious burns were triaged to and managed at burns referral centres. Throughout the disaster, burns referral centres continued to have substantial surge capacity.

Conclusions:

Most bushfire victims either died, or survived with minor injuries. As a result of good prehospital triage and planning, the small number of patients with serious burns did not overload the acute health care system.

Authors:

Peter A. Cameron, Biswadev Mitra, Mark Fitzgerald, Carlos D. Scheinkestel, Andrew Stripp, Chris Batey, Louise Niggemeyer, Melinda Truesdale, Paul Holman, Rishi Mehra, Jason Wasiak and Heather Cleland.

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