Under pressure, hospitals expand infra, neglect fire safety
The recent spate of blazes in hospitals, which are under tremendous strain owing to the pandemic, have brought the focus on how fire safety is neglected on the premises.
A fire in a Mumbra hospital on Wednesday morning killed four patients from the intensive care unit (ICU). Fire brigade officials have claimed short-circuit in the meter room to be the cause of the fire.
M V Deshmukh, director, Fire Safe India Foundation and former director and fire advisor to the state government, said most of the hospitals have strained their electrical load capacity, especially in the pandemic. “Hospitals have been adding ventilators, air-conditioning units and electrical equipment indiscriminately without enhancing their load. The electrical infrastructure has not been refurnished to meet this enhanced load and all these factors are bound to backfire. More patients mean more use of power and this is playing havoc,” he said.
Last week, 15 people lost their lives in a fire at a private hospital in Virar. The fire brigade was called 43 minutes after the first spark was noticed, wasting precious time. A massive fire broke out on the first floor of the Dreams Mall at Bhandup late on March 25 which spread to the third floor, which housed a Covid hospital, claiming nine lives. A Mumbai Fire Brigade (MFB) inspection carried out last October pointed that the building’s manual fire alarm and automatic smoke detector system were not functioning. There were 23 observations that signalled flouting of fire safety norms in the building, including the absence of alternative electrical supply and rusty pipes in the firefighting system.
Namdeo Sable, proprietor, Sai Industries, which have been conducting fire and electrical audits for 19 years, said, “Fires are mainly due to the glitches in electricity and this aspect is neglected by the hospital administration. They appoint unlicensed electricians who hardly have any technical knowledge and cut corners. Audit reports should be used to rectify the errors, but here it is more of an eyewash.” Deshmukh said lack of evacuation plans is another issue. “In Virar, they could have saved at least 10 of the 15 patients had there been a plan in place,” said Deshmukh. Deshmukh warns that jumbo Covid-19 centres are also at a risk.
“Most big hospitals have regular fire mock drills and an evacuation plan,” said the senior administrator of a hospital in south Mumbai. Most others refused to comment. State urban development minister Eknath Shinde said hospitals have been told to conduct both fire and oxygen audits and rectify the errors.