OGDEN — At any given time, MountainStar Blood Services houses thousands of temperature-sensitive products, so when the power went out Thursday and the generators didn’t immediately start, employees had to act quickly to avoid a disaster.
“We had our own little — OK, maybe not so little — hiccup in operations when all of the power to the Ogden donor center and lab went out and the backup generators did not kick in,” said MountainStar Blood Services employee Jeremy Holmes.
Holmes said red blood cells, platelets, fresh-frozen plasma, frozen recovered plasma and cryoprecipitate were sitting in refrigerators and freezers. With the power off, alarms in the lab emitted a shrill cry for help. The race to beat the clock and save the blood supply had started.
Staffers donned headlamps, filled bags with ice and assembled boxes for blood transport in record time, Holmes said. On-hand ice supplies were depleted quickly and employees were dispatched with coolers to Ogden Regional Medical Center next door to get more ice.
“Blood was packed as fast as possible to ensure units remained ‘in temperature’ for transport and safekeeping,” Holmes said.
Holmes said the main power panel failed as a result of three tiny locking washers that were installed incorrectly during the manufacturing process.
After two years of use, the normal vibrations in the panel allowed two components to separate, which caused the main breaker to trip and not reset. The internal safety mechanisms would not allow power to flow through the panel nor trigger the emergency backup power.
“Thousands of blood products were at risk,” Holmes said. “And, unfortunately, there is no way to install a backup system for our backup system.”
MountainStar Blood Services is Utah’s oldest donor-service and blood-products manufacturing center. A power failure could have affected several Wasatch Front hospitals, Holmes said.
Marilyn Peralta, MountainStar Blood Services executive director, called her employees heroes for the way they handled the crisis and said no hospitals were impacted. She said it might have been difficult to obtain replacement blood for local hospitals because summertime donations at all blood services struggle to keep pace with demand. It would have taken a long time for MountainStar donors to replace lost product through the normal process.
“We are in the business of saving lives,” Peralta said, “but our staff really proved their worth by responding to this emergency in a timely and professional manner.”