Fire spread at the central pathological laboratory at RG Kar Medical College and Hospital at 12.30 pm on Friday, after a short circuit in one of the split air conditioners in the lab. Medical and security staff at the hospital put out the blaze with fire extinguishers.
Following the dreadful memories of the AMRI fire, rekindled by Friday’s incident at RG Kar, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has shifted the responsibility of maintenance at government hospitals from the public works department to the health department.
Mamata made the announcement while addressing a press meet at Swasthya Bhavan in Salt Lake on Friday. “I don’t want a repetition of the AMRI incident. From now on the health department will look after the maintenance of government hospital,” said Banerjee.
Long queues of patients and their families stood outside the emergency building at the hospital during rush hour on Friday morning. “We were standing in front of the emergency building. Suddenly we heard a huge cry from the building and saw hundreds of people hurriedly climbing down the stairs.
Some of them told us that a fire broke out at the central pathology lab and flamed leaped up from an AC machine there,” said Manoj Das whose mother has been admitted at the sixth floor of the emergency building.
Soon, the entire second floor was thick with heavy smoke. “The outdoor section of the dermatology department is right beside the pathological lab. And the ENT ward is also adjacent to it, so a lot of patients visit the OPD at the time. In fact, it was the patients who first noticed the fire,” said superintendent of RG Kar, Ajoy Roy.
The panic-stricken patients, nurses and others on the second floor began hastily evacuating the building when the saw smoke leaking out of the lab. However, many alleged that the hospital security staff closed all the collapsible exit gates, causing even greater panic among people trying to exit the emergency building.
“We tried getting downstairs but all the exit gates were locked by security staff. It was really frightening for all of us waiting for the gates to open. We had to wait for more than an hour on the sixth floor before some people opened the gates after the fire was put out,” said Mala Bhandari, a Garia resident, who visited the pathological lab to collect reports on Friday morning.
However, the security staff said that they had to close all the exit points just to ensure safety and no theft of hospital property during the disturbance. Addressing the issue, the chief minister said, “All emergency exit gates should be opened at any hospital is any such incident takes place in the future, because people’s lives are more precious. However, the theft of hospital property is also not acceptable.
Fire fighters broke the glass windows of the lab while examining the room, to release the pent us smoke. Many fled the spot as soon as the fire broke out. “There was not much damage inside the lab, except to the AC machine, which was completely gutted and a few papers burnt. The lab was closed from 12.30 pm to 3.30 pm. But we resumed services around 4 pm,” Roy said.