Extreme magnetic field: What should be done in an emergency?

Special training course held at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich

July 02, 2015

The fire brigade and the emergency services need to exercise utmost caution when dealing with the extreme magnetic field caused by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners in emergency situations. Therefore, the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry invited the municipal fire brigade to use its MRI scanner for education and training purposes before it was finally shut down after 18 years of continuous operation.

Magnetic field makes axe fly through the room

First of all, the scientists and firemen filmed a training video. It impressively demonstrated how dangerous MRI scanners can be for firefighters. The magnet immediately attracted several pieces of their equipment.

The extremely strong magnetic field immediately attracts a fireman dummy, weighing 80 kilos, fully equipped with respirator, compressed air cylinder, helmet and rescue axe as if it were a small toy.

Particularly impressive was the simulated “emergency situation”: A fireman dummy, weighing 80 kilos fully equipped with respirator, compressed air cylinder, helmet and rescue axe, sitting on an office chair was wheeled into the magnet room. The magnetic field immediately attracted the dummy with such incredible power that it dragged the compressed air cylinder and axe straight into the bore of the magnet. In reality, the fireman would have been seriously injured.

Fire near the magnetic resonance imaging scanner

The next day, the fire brigade arrived with two fire engines to practise extinguishing a fire in the surroundings of the MRI scanner. In order to create realistic conditions, the whole area was nebulized creating poor visibility and two missing people had to be rescued. Thus, the firemen learnt to be aware of the dangers caused by the magnet in a rescue scenario.

Finally, the Max Planck scientists demonstrated how the MRI scanner can be switched off in an emergency. Within seconds of turning it off, the magnetic field had collapsed, and the coolant (liquid helium, -269°C) had evaporated. Due to the freezing humidity, a huge cloud of fog rose above the building. After 15 to 20 seconds, the magnet was completely switched off and the firemen were able to safely enter the dangerous magnet room, even with full protective clothing.

After the emergency switch-off, cooling liquid at -269°C evaporates from the magnetic resonance imaging scanner making the air freeze.


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