By Jonathan Phelps
---- — PEABODY — Lahey Clinic Medical Center was evacuated last night over fears of an outdoor oxygen tank leaking, fire officials said.
The police and fire departments were called to the hospital for the leak at 7:19 p.m. and the whole building was evacuated as a precaution, said fire Deputy Chief Paul Hinchion. Several nearby communities were called in for mutual aid.
“We didn’t know what we were dealing with,” Hinchion said, noting initial reports of it being a nitrogen leak. Officials treated the incident as a hazardous materials situation.
Hinchion said a large outdoor tank that serviced the entire building started leaking and spewing out oxygen in the form of gas when a valve broke. There were fears of a possible fire or explosion. If it leaked as a liquid there were concerns about responders getting serious frostbite or burns, Hinchion said.
A maintenance person from the hospital was eventually able to stop the leak, Hinchion said.
Patients and staff members waited in the parking lot as ambulances lined up nearby to prepare.
In all, nine patients and 15 staff members were evacuated. Six patients were transported by ambulance to Lahey Clinic in Burlington, and one was taken to Beverly Hospital. Two drove themselves to Burlington, according to officials.
“There were some people in the waiting room who just got up and left,” Hinchion said.
He said there was no leak in the actual building, but there were concerns over the wind that was blowing the gas toward the building.
“We didn’t want it to get into the ventilation system,” he said.
Staff members got the OK to re-enter the building at 8:42 p.m. Patients transported to other locations weren’t expected to come back last night, but the hospital was open to receive new patients, officials said.
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.