According to news reports, including an Associated Press wire story, an MRI machine at an area hospital recently caught fire. There was nobody injured.

The articles we've read state that it was through adequate training on the part of either hospital personnel, area firefighters, or both that the emergency situation didn't escalate, including a possible explosion of the MRI device.

There was some smoke emitted into adjoining areas of the hospital, but no serious damages were stated.

What was of most concern is that if it hadn't been for that training, what would have happened?

Without knowing anything about the technicalities of the operations or construction of the MRI machines, it was reported there are powerful magnets in them. Had firefighters gone into the MRI department with metal fire extinguishes, metal hose nozzles, or other equipment, those metal objects could have been drawn into the MRI machine and caused problems including possibly an explosion.

Instead, there were special non-metal fire extinguishes which were responsible for quickly getting the situation under control.

Had such an MRI incident happened at a local hospital, would local fire department personnel been aware of such a sensitive method of handling the emergency? Would they have known not to take metal objects into the room to help fight the fire?

Is there other equipment in hospitals that firefighters should become familiar with just in case there is ever an emergency?

We know that local firefighters spend a lot of time training. We don't doubt their qualifications in handling virtually any emergency. But when it comes to equipment like MRI machines, then hopefully they are assisted in training by experts who know such machinery.

It's not only hospital equipment with which emergency responders should familiarize themselves.

Last year, there was a chemical emergency at a local industry. Firefighters responded and did everything perfect to prevent a potentially disastrous situation. Obviously the firefighters were trained in handling such scenarios.

What about equipment at other industries and buildings? Fire departments should be invited to check such equipment and become familiar with it for safety reasons, just in case there ever is an emergency like the one that occurred at the hospital's MRI machine.

There's no doubt our local fire departments are well trained. But you can always learn new things. And learning the safety aspects of unfamiliar equipment and machines could be a life saver especially for emergency responders.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com