A day after 89 people died after a fire in a private hospital in Kolkata, state health officials admitted that many public hospitals in the city are not equipped to fight a similar situation.
At the KEM Hospital in Parel, the first floor houses several wards but has only one fire extinguisher. The ground floor, which has the casualty and the out-patient department, does not have a single fire extinguisher.
"I am not satisfied with the existing safety plan," Dr Sanjay Oak, dean of KEM Hospital, said. "We will evaluate the equipment in a systematic manner and identify the lacunae. Everything will be done soon," he reassured.
Health officials confirmed that civic-run hospitals such as the Nair hospital and Sion hospital do not have adequate fire extinguishers, lack fire exit routes with proper signage and have outdated fire alarm systems. However, they have more open spaces as compared to private hospitals.
"These hospitals are very old. We will do an audit and put the most modern equipment in place," said Pravin Shingare, acting director, Directorate of Medical Education and Research.
Private hospitals seem to fare better. Chief fire officer HN Muzawar said that 99% of the city's private hospitals are comply with fire safety rules. "We see to it that the hospitals are fire safety compliant with regard to equipment. If we find any lapses, we give them recommendations and file a compliance report after changing the systems," Muzawar said. "However, it is every hospital's responsibility to ensure that its staff is able to use the equipment and execute the evacuation plan properly."
Disaster management experts said that fire safety could not be achieved without regular training of staff and timely checks of equipment. Experts recommended that drills should be conducted every six months.
"We conduct drills every three months and the staff is trained in how to rescue patients who can walk, how to use stretchers and cut off oxygen lines where not required," said Vijay Ratna, regional general manager, Fortis Hospital, Mulund.
However, several other hospitals were unable to provide details of drills. Another concern raised by city planners is the space crunch in Mumbai, which leads to vertical constructions and traffic snarls on narrow roads. It is difficult for the fire brigade to conduct rescue operation in cases where structures are over 17 floors in height.
"Fires can spread within seconds and traffic and narrow roads are a reality in Mumbai," said Dr Praful Pawar, chief executive officer, Jaslok hospital. "There is no alternative to having an inbuilt system. We are in the process of clearing all the clutter and training the staff." Jaslok hospital kicked off its fire safety week on Saturday and will be conducting an evacuation drill for clearing cars in the parking lot to make space for evacuees.