Jamaica Plain VA Medical Center (Photo courtesy of VA)

Fire in Boston MR suite leaves magnet quenched and out of commission, authorities investigate

March 21, 2024
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
Police and firefighters in Boston are investigating a fire that lit up underneath an MR machine and extended into the suite at Jamaica Plain VA Medical Center.

The incident started around 10 a.m. on March 19 in Building 1B. Firefighters were able to put it out within an hour after hospital workers shut down the equipment. Deputy Fire Chief Martin McCormack told CBS News Boston that shutting down the scanner was essential for addressing the fire, as the magnetic force of the equipment made the situation complex and potentially more dangerous than usual. To shut it down, however, staff had to quench the magnet, causing it to incur minimal damage, said the hospital.

"For firefighters and patients it's a very dangerous machine to be around," he said. "Especially for firefighters, it can take tools out of their hands and put it right into the machine. So we have to be very careful around that."

While no one was hurt, the cause is still unknown, and MR services will be limited for the next week until the suite is restored, according to WHDH/Channel 7. Initial findings indicate it may have been brought on by welding performed by a contractor around the exterior of the building, near the suite.

According to the hospital, the damage was mostly limited to the building's exterior cladding and smoke damage inside.

The fire department said it became a two-alarm fire but that it was confined to the first and second floors. The majority of the hospital was evacuated and later allowed back in.

While the VA says that alarms went off across the entire hospital campus, veterans Benjamin Aubrin and Donald Souza said they heard none.

“We just walked downstairs, and the whole place was filled with smoke. That's all I can say. There was no notification," Souza told CBS News Boston.

While the alarm system recently passed inspection, VA Boston HCS will reinspect it due to these concerns.

"The safety of our Veterans, visitors and staff is always our top priority. "I want to reassure everyone that VA Boston will continue to provide the care our Veterans have earned," said Vincent Ng, director of VA Boston Healthcare System, in a statement.

Until the suite is restored, the hospital will be assessing patients with a research MR system there and at the diagnostic imagery unit in West Roxbury. It says it believes it can honor the majority of scheduled appointments, but that a “handful” will likely need to be rescheduled.