EXCLUSIVE: Look inside fire-ravaged John Sealy Hospital

GALVESTON, TX (KTRK) -- John Sealy Hospital remains closed to patients, and the only people allowed inside the main hospital on Galveston Island are insurance investigators, fire marshal inspectors and repair crews.

But today when ABC13 was given an exclusive look at what's called 'ground zero' of the Jan. 4 fire that evacuated the hospital building.

Steve LeBlanc with UTMBC says the fire is believed to have started in the second floor waiting room, where patient families would wait for news of surgical outcomes. The area was closed at the time of the fire.

Investigators have not yet determined what started the fire, but it was furniture that fueled it. Exposed ductwork, still black from fire and smoke that spread within minutes up elevator shafts and stairwells, is still visible on the ceiling.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Fire prompts complete evacuation at John Sealy Hospital

The fire triggered a complete evacuation of the building. Eyewitness News was there shortly after fire crews arrived on the day of the fire. Patients could be seen being escorted from the building. Nurses transferred babies in incubators to neighboring Jenny Sealy and Shriners hospitals.

"Smoke was coming up [through the building] even as they were coming down," said LeBlanc.

A woman who was in labor was among those being evacuated. The hospital's chief of nursing and patient care won't forget that -- he helped get her out.

"She had been given an epidural before the fire happened," said David Marshall. "She couldn't move."

Marshall and several other employees put the woman on a kind of back board and took her down several flights of stairs. Until the fire, those labor and delivery rooms had been located on an upper floor. The day of the massive blaze, it filled with smoke.

VIDEO: Evacuation at John Sealy
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John Sealy Hospital evacuated after fire and heavy smoke

"Her husband helped, too," Marshall said. When asked if the husband was frightened, Marshall replied, "No. He kept thanking us for getting her out."

No injuries occurred, which is the remarkable part of the story. UTMB credits its quarterly fire drills for the speedy evacuation.

"We include everybody in those," said Jack Tarpley, who is in charge of UTMB's health and safety procedures. "It lent itself to a safe evacuation for our patients and staff and everybody in the building."

The neighboring Jenny Sealy Hospital has taken up the patient load. Less than a year old, it had space for the extra patients. Labor and delivery is now being housed at the John Sealy Annex.

Next month, a corridor that connected John Sealy to Shriners and John Sealy Hospitals will be reopened. It was closed after the fire. If all goes according to plan, some of the hospital's upper floors may begin to return to service by March.

Because of the building's age, fire sprinklers were not part of the building. They may be added now. The newer facilities on campus are equipped with them.

The cost of the damage is still being calculated. Repairs can and will be made, but no money can replace a life lost, and in this fire, there were no human casualties.

UTMB Health Systems CEO Donna Sollenberger thanks those who came to the rescue of others for that.

"Amazing staff," she said. "People who really worked hard to get everybody out safely." null
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