History of St John of God Ballarat - 1980s - Devastation

Renovations were in full swing until disaster struck in 1984 when a fire broke out causing major damage. However, nearby hospitals came to the aid of St John of God Ballarat Hospital in its hour of need.

21 Jun 2018


Plans put on hold as disaster strikes

A major plan for renovating the adjacent ward block was the next project and was well underway by 1984.

It was to be a five-year project, conducted in stages to ensure the hospital’s continual operation.

However, without warning, on 12 October 1984 the hospital faced one of its greatest tests when at 2.00 pm a fire started under the ground floor of the ward block.

Substantial damage was sustained to the power and lighting systems, telephones, public address system, computer cables, steam and water pipes and to medical and fuel gases. 

The evacuation

Patients were immediately evacuated to the John Jens Medical Services Block and then transferred to other hospitals. 

It became apparent that the wide and long passageways connecting the wards to the John Jens Medical Services block were a great boon where in the past there had been criticism of them as extravagant.

It became clear with hindsight that they were crucial to the speedy evacuation of patients from the ward.

Only months earlier, not long after the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983, a state disaster plan for the central highlands region had been drawn up, involving local emergency services and the four directors of Ballarat’s hospitals (Ballarat Base Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Geriatric Centre, Lakeside Hospital and St John of God Ballarat Hospital).

Using this plan, the patients were evacuated within 20 minutes in their beds, on stretchers, carried on chairs, or on foot.

In each ward a particular nurse was allotted to a patient and was responsible for that patient’s wellbeing.

Patients were either sent home or moved to other hospitals.

A closed ward at Ballarat Base Hospital was reopened and many patients moved there with nursing staff.

Some patients suffered minor delayed shock, but no-one was injured.

In the maternity section some babies were born during the evacuation period and then mothers and babies, one in a humidicrib, were transferred.

St John of God Ballarat Director of Medical Services Jim Pryor stressed the importance of the close proximity of Ballarat Base Hospital, and its quick response to the fire.

"It is well to recognise the unique features of medical life and institutions in Ballarat," he said.

"The two major acute hospitals are within a short distance of each other, and large numbers of doctors practise near to the hospital.

"The opportunity therefore exists for a rapid coming together of relevant doctors to any crisis in either of the two institutions."

The fire was a watershed in the relationship between the two hospitals which, since then, have embraced closer collaboration in the medical services provided to the region.

What’s next?

How the hospital utilised the devastation of the fire to fast track the planned project.