The “cosmetic beauty” of AMRI Hospital, a car parking turned into a godown on the sly and failure of the fire prevention system turned the building into a virtual gas chamber on Friday.
The seven-storey hospital had sanction from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and the fire brigade for parking in its basement. But the space gradually turned into a godown.
“What made matters worse was that the godown was stacked with highly combustible material such as PVC pipes, mattresses, oxygen and LPG cylinders, and even mobil (engine oil). When the fire was sparked off, probably from a short circuit, dense smoke started billowing out of the basement,” said state fire department director Gopal Bhattacharjee.
The centrally air-conditioned building had no open windows. All windows were sealed with double glass panes, which enhanced the building’s looks.
“This cosmetic look turned the building into a virtual gas chamber. With no outlet, the smoke started circulating in the building, choking the patients and the staff. None of the patients who died had any burn injuries. All were choked to death,” said Bhattacharjee.
Had there been windows, both patients and rescuers could have got more time. “When the fire brigade and National Disaster Response Force jawans reached the floors one by one and broke the glass panes, the building became smoke free within minutes,” Bhattacharjee added.
A health department official who visited the site of the blaze said the hospital had in-built automatic fire detection and suppression system, but it was not regularly maintained.
What’s more, the tragedy has struck despite the hospital holding proper paperwork and fire safety licence. Government officials who had a look at the hospital’s licence renewal documents said all papers were in order.