A major fire broke out at Mohandai Oswal Cancer Hospital around midnight on Sunday, resulting in panic for scores of patients, their attendants and hospital staff, who were timely evacuated and a major tragedy was averted.
When the fire broke out, a total of 600 people including 132 patients (including eight newborns), 200 attendants and nearly 300 hospital staff members were present inside the building.
Within minutes, smoke engulfed the emergency ward, ICU and all three floors. Patients’ attendants claimed that pungent smell of burning acid was all over the place. As smoke spread, hospital staff members evacuated the patients from all wards and units, and shifted them to an open place on the hospital premises.
While the attendants claimed that the fire broke out at 12am, the hospital authorities claimed that it broke out at 1am, following which fire brigade was called.
The fire brigade team swung into action and immediately took out three LPG cylinders from the basement, thus preventing blasts. It took the fire brigade team more than six hours to douse the fire that erupted from the basement where acid was stored. Though exact reason behind the fire is yet to be ascertained, fire brigade officials said fire spread after blasts occurred in chemical containers at laboratory in the basement. Two assistants were present in the laboratory, but they came out just in time.
Fire officer Rajinder Sharma said, “Fire tenders from all city stations were rushed to the spot, but only three fire tenders were used to douse the fire. No casualty was reported. We have installed exhaust fans to drain out smoke from the basement. It seems that chemical reacted with water due to which blasts occurred.”
Hospital director Dr VK Kaushal said, “Patients were shifted to the nursing hostel and college, while the eight newborns were shifted to the nursing hostel’s mess. Out of 132 patients, three patients who were on life supporting system at the ICU on first floor were referred to Christian Medical College and Hospital.”
Hospital staff attempts to douse flames
Before the fire brigade reached the hospital, staff struggled to control the fire, but to no avail. Sources said smoke was so dense that it was difficult to breathe.
Firefighters suffer skin irritation
The fire teams started their operation by breaking the emergency doors to enter the basement. A fireman, Raj Kumar, said, “We took out three LPG cylinders safely from the basement. Due to chemical reaction, some firemen also suffered irritation on the skin.”
Negligence comes to fore, MC marks inquiry
The Ludhiana Municipal Corporation (LMC) has marked an inquiry into the fire incident to look into the alleged negligence by the hospital authorities as acid was stored in containers in the basement that caught fire.
Moreover, the hospital was also found to be ill-equipped to handle such incidents. MC commissioner GK Singh Dhaliwal said, “We have marked an inquiry into the matter and also written a letter to the health authorities to hold inspection in all hospitals on whether they are following fire safety norms.”
The inquiry has been entrusted to additional MC commissioner Devinder Singh. While the exact cause of fire is still unknown, sources said the fire spread after blasts occurred in the acid stored in containers at the basement of the hospital.
Following the incident, three LPG cylinders kept in the basement were immediately removed by the firefighters, sources said. Even though the hospital authorities claimed they have adequate fire safety equipment, yet the way the fire spread negates their tall claims.
Rahul Verma, a visitor at the hospital, said, “I think the hospital staff should take required steps to avoid such incidents in future. There should be more exits from the building, as people were using stairs from one side. Staff was very supportive at the time of incident.”
A hospital official claimed that patients were shifted to nursing college and hostel and there was no panic-like situation. A spokesperson of the hospital said, “After the fire was doused at 8 am, patients were shifted back to their wards. The hospital has sufficient equipment to deal with fire. Hospital records, computers and items in hospital store are safe.”
Hospital director Dr VK Kaushal said, “All patients are safe. The hospital services were resumed. There was no panic in the hospital as the patients were shifted to other buildings of nursing college and hostel safely.”
Patients had to bear stench all day
The smell of burnt items was being felt on till Monday afternoon. A fire tender remained stationed at the hospital throughout the day to pour water onto the gutted area. The heat level was still high in the chemotherapy ward, which is situated just above the basement.