A burn mass casualty event due to boiler room explosion on a cruise ship: Preparedness and outcomes

Akin Tekin, Nicholas Namias, Terence O'Keeffe, Louis Pizano, Mauricio Lynn, Robin Prater-Varas, Olga Delia Quintana, Leda Borges, Mary Ishii, Seong Lee, Peter Lopez, Sharon Lessner-Eisenberg, Angel Alvarez, Tom Ellison, Katherine Sapnas, Jennifer Lefton, Charles Gillon Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to review our experience with a mass casualty incident resulting from a boiler room steam explosion aboard a cruise ship. Experience with major, moderate, and minor burns, steam inhalation, mass casualty response systems, and psychological sequelae will be discussed. Fifteen cruise ship employees were brought to the burn center after a boiler room explosion on a cruise ship. Eleven were triaged to the trauma resuscitation area and four to the surgical emergency room. Seven patients were intubated for respiratory distress or airway protection. Six patients had >80 per cent burns with steam inhalation, and all of these died. One of the 6 patients had 99 per cent burns with steam inhalation and died after withdrawal of support within the first several hours. All patients with major burns required escharotomy on arrival to trauma resuscitation. One patient died in the operating room, despite decompression by laparotomy for abdominal compartment syndrome and pericardiotomy via thoracotomy for cardiac tamponade. Four patients required crystalloid, 20,000 mls/m2-27,000 ml/m2 body surface area (BSA) in the first 48 hours to maintain blood pressure and urine output. Three of these four patients subsequently developed abdominal compartment syndrome and died in the first few days. The fourth patient of this group died after 26 days due to sepsis. Five patients had 13-20 per cent burns and four patients had less than 10 per cent burns. Two of the patients with 20 per cent burns developed edema of the vocal cords with mild hoarseness. They improved and recovered without intubation. The facility was prepared for the mass casualty event, having just completed a mass casualty drill several days earlier. Twenty-six beds were made available in 50 minutes for anticipated casualties. Fifteen physicians reported immediately to the trauma resuscitation area to assist in initial stabilization. The event occurred at shift change; thus, adequate support personnel were instantaneously to hand. Our mass casualty preparation proved useful in managing this event. Most of the patients who survived showed signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome, which was diagnosed and treated by the burn center psychology team. Despite our efforts at treating large burns (>80%) with steam inhalation, mortality was 100 per cent. Fluid requirements far exceeded those predicted by the Parkland (Baxter) formula. Abdominal compartment syndrome proved to be a significant complication of this fluid resuscitation. A coordinated effort by the facility and preparation for mass casualty events are needed to respond to such events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210-215
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Surgeon
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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