NEW YORK -- A fire at a major hospital sent smoke pouring through an emergency room Wednesday, injuring at least six firefighters and forcing 600 patients to be moved across the sprawling complex.
The fire began shortly before 6:30 p.m. in a second-floor mechanical room at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan and spread to a first-floor emergency room, Fire Department spokesman Frank Dwyer said. The fire was confined to the mechanical room and the cause was not known.
Dwyer said patients were moved from the east wings to the west wings of the 12-story hospital, which has nearly 1,200 beds, as firefighters searched the building. The patients had been on the third through 11th floors.
There were no reports of injuries among patients.
Hours later, patients that had been forced to flee were being allowed back to their floors, said a hospital spokesman in a statement released at 10:55 p.m.
Flames from the Manhattan building were visible from the adjacent Madison Avenue, said Janet Montero, a manager at a nearby restaurant.
Jessica Ochoa said she saw and smelled smoke: "We couldn't breathe."
A nurse initially told the family members to stay in the room, but a hospital staffer then instructed them to put wet towels across their faces and led them to the ground floor of a nearby building, Jessica Ochoa said. She said she saw one nurse faint during a brisk but orderly evacuation.
Ellen Marakowitz rushed to the hospital from her Manhattan home after an aide for her 88-year-old mother, Helen Marakowitz, called to say she was being moved from her hospital room because of the fire.
"I'm sure she's fine, but it would be nice to know where she is," Marakowitz said. "My mother's 88, and the aide is terrified, so I'm not just going to ignore them."
Hospital representatives did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.
Mount Sinai, which occupies four square blocks on the city's Upper East Side, was founded in downtown Manhattan in 1852.
Service on four bus lines in the area was disrupted, the city's transit agency said. Four buses were used for evacuation and staging efforts, it said.