Even fire and smoke can’t stop #TheVaccinators - James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital - Tampa, Florida
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James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital - Tampa, Florida


Even fire and smoke can’t stop #TheVaccinators

New Port Richey Outpatient Clinic Registered Nurses Laura Aponte, Terese Fields, Alina Harris and Lisa Aldrich-Olavarria

New Port Richey Outpatient Clinic Registered Nurses Laura Aponte, Terese Fields, Alina Harris and Lisa Aldrich-Olavarria set up a COVID-19 vaccination operation in the clinic parking lot after smoke filled their building.

By Ed Drohan
Thursday, February 4, 2021
A group of four registered nurses at the New Port Richey Outpatient Clinic call themselves #TheVaccinators, and they take that title seriously.

They take it so seriously that they continued providing Veterans with the COVID-19 vaccination even after smoke from a fire outside the clinic forced everyone to evacuate the building.

Nurses Lisa Aldrich-Olavarria, Alina Harris, Terese Fields and Laura Aponte had spent the most of January 26 providing COVID-19 vaccinations to Veterans at the clinic.  Sometime after lunch, they noticed increased activity in the clinic and began to smell smoke.

As it turns out, a brush fire had started in an area of dried grass directly behind the clinic.  While VA Police officers were eventually able to extinguish the blaze using fire extinguishers, the clinic quickly filled with smoke making evacuation a necessity for the safety of staff and Veterans.

“When they pulled the fire alarm, we both looked at each other and started getting everything ready,” Aldrich-Olavarria said of her actions with teammate Harris.  “I told the patients to quietly go out.  We grabbed the cart and went out together.  I was thinking, oh my God, what if the place burns down and our vaccines burn?  Also, we didn’t want them to expire.  We didn’t want to waste anything.”

The COVID-19 vaccine used at the clinic has a short shelf life after being prepared and must be disposed of if not used within six hours.  The same thoughts ran through the minds of Fields and Aponte, who were working as a team in an office right across the hall.  They also grabbed the vaccines they were using, directed patients outside, and the four made an immediate decision to ensure that no dose of the vaccine should be wasted just because of a little thing like a smoke-filled building.

They worked together to set up a vaccination station in the parking lot outside the building.  While they were doing that, screeners were able to retrieve chairs from the building so Veterans could wait the required 15 to 30 minutes after being vaccinated to ensure they didn’t have any adverse reactions.

Site of the fire behind the clinic that filled the building with smoke.

Site of the fire behind the clinic that filled the building with smoke.

“We just lined chairs up, tried to do social distancing, put our cart in the middle and went around and got everybody’s information,” Fields said.  “We had to keep a list of everybody we [vaccinated].  Then we gave a special list to the clerks to get their second appointments.”

The Veterans waiting to be vaccinated didn’t blink an eye, the nurses said. 

“I’m glad nobody left,” Harris said.  “Everybody stuck around.  They didn’t just automatically think that, oh, I can’t get my shot today so I’m going home.”

“They were very happy that we were still going on,” Fields added.  “They’re like, ‘You’re still giving shots?’  Yes, we have to get as many people vaccinated as we can.  I feel the Veterans, they saw we were organized, we weren’t in chaos, we weren’t panicked.  We were very calm and we just did what nurses do.”

Before the building was cleared of smoke, the four nurses had vaccinated between 15 and 20 Veterans and not a single dose was wasted.  While they continued vaccinating, they also continuously coordinated with their pharmacist and leadership team to make sure everything was done safely.

The four nurses said they didn’t think they were doing anything special when they deployed the vaccination station to the parking lot.

“We adjust and overcome,” Aldrich-Olavarria said.  “That’s what all nurses do everywhere, but in the VA particularly.”

Fields agreed.

“At the end of the day, the Veterans got served, no vaccines were wasted and we did what we needed to do,” she said.  “We don’t even feel we did anything special.  We just did what nurses do.  We just continue on.”


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