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Question hospitals and schools on fire safety

Whether you are checking into a hospital or a hotel, hiring a marriage hall or a convention centre, admitting your child in a school or going to a cinema hall, please make it a habit to pose questions about fire safety provisions, particularly about the 'No objection Certificate' form the fire department.

delhi Updated: Dec 11, 2011 00:17 IST
Pushpa Girimaji

Whether you are checking into a hospital or a hotel, hiring a marriage hall or a convention centre, admitting your child in a school or going to a cinema hall, please make it a habit to pose questions about fire safety provisions, particularly about the 'No objection Certificate' form the fire department.

Such questioning will send out a clear message that we, as consumers, will not patronise those who fail to ensure fire safety. In fact, the government should make it mandatory for every service provider to put up a board outside the building, informing consumers about the status of the building vis-à-vis fire safety.

Similarly, all receipts issued by hospitals, marriage halls, schools, cinema halls, should carry information on whether the building has got an NOC from the fire department and if so, when.

The fire department, on its part, should carry out full inspections every year and put out the results on its website in a consumer-friendly format so that the fire safety NOC becomes an important criteria for choosing a school or a hospital or even a cinema hall. The Delhi fire service website has a list of 'NOC cases' under different categories such as schools, high-rise buildings and stadium, but this list should be expanded to include private schools, hospitals - both government and private, cinema halls, shopping malls, etc.

And these should be in a format easy to understand. If I understood the list correctly, very few government schools in the long list have NOC. Against most of them, I see the word "shortcoming". But then that should not surprise us - from what the fire department has told reporters, several government hospitals in Delhi too do not have NOCs.

Fire prevention, detection and evacuation measures for a hospital are quite distinct from other buildings on account of the chemicals and gases as well as sophisticated medical equipment. Besides, you need to have special provisions and training for evacuating patients, many of whom might be on life support and unable to move. Imagine a fire interrupting major surgeries in progress at a hospital like AIIMS? So one just cannot take fire safety in respect of hospitals lightly.

Given that scenario, AMRI hospital in Kolkata was guilty of gross and callous negligence on so many counts - from failing to clear its basement of inflammable substances to failing to evacuate patients and callously leaving them to die. And it was not a cash-strapped government hospital, but a posh, private hospital. The punishment meted out to the hospital authorities and the compensation awarded to the victims and their families should be of such magnitude that in future, no hospital should ever dare neglect fire safety. And justice has to be delivered quickly.

Shyamala Rao: When my husband was discharged from a private hospital after some investigations. I asked the hospital to give me copies of the consent forms he had signed, with regard to investigation procedures. The hospital however refused. Are we not entitled to it?

Answer: Of course you are. Please write a formal letter to the hospital demanding this. In fact a number of orders of the Apex Consumer Court and the Supreme Court have focused on patients' rights, but for want of space, I will quote just one here. In its order in the case of Shri SR Shivaprakash vs Wockardt Hospital, Mumbai (OP No 208 of 1993) the National Commission placed an obligation on doctors and hospitals to provide the patient with all medical records pertaining to the treatment. This should help your case.