No smoke alarm, sprinklers: despite audit, Maharashtra govt hospital didn’t have firefighting system

Putting the blame squarely on the district hospital administration, Shankar Misal, chief of the Ahmednagar civic fire brigade, said fire audits of the hospital had suggested setting up a firefighting system.

AN AUDIT by the Ahmednagar civic fire brigade just some months ago had suggested setting up of a firefighting system in the district hospital in which 11 Covid-19 patients died after fire swept through its Intensive Care Unit.

Putting the blame squarely on the district hospital administration, Shankar Misal, chief of the Ahmednagar civic fire brigade, said fire audits of the hospital had suggested setting up a firefighting system. “The first fire audit was conducted in 2015. And the last one a few months back. During both the audits, we had suggested setting up a firefighting system,” he said.

“Today, we found that other than fire extinguishers, there was nothing in the name of a firefighting system,” said Misal, whose team is learnt to have rushed to the spot within 20 minutes of the fire. “Fire sprinklers, hydrants were missing… the staff had apparently not been trained to handle the fire,” he said.

According to Misal, even smoke detectors – which play an important role during fire incidents – were also missing. “Had smoke detectors been put in place, they would have set off a siren and the entire staff could have quickly swung into action. If fire sprinklers had been installed, they could have helped in dousing the fire or reducing its intensity before the fire brigade lands. If a proper system was in place, casualties would have still occurred, but the number would have been much less.”

Misal said his team removed 15 patients out of ward. “Two of them were moved out of the smoke-filled ward by the hospital staff… We can’t say whether the patients died due to suffocation or lack of oxygen supply,” he noted.

Misal said the district hospital only had a provisional certificate. “A final No Objection Certificate is given only when an appropriate firefighting system is installed. In this case, since the system was not in place, we had not issued the final NoC,” he said. “A robust firefighting system could have immediately helped in controlling the fire.”

When the fire broke out at the Covid ICU ward, near 90 per cent beds were occupied. Rajendra Bhosale, District Collector, told The Indian Express that of the 19 beds at the ICU, 17 were occupied. Most patients were elderly above the age of 65 years.

While district civil surgeon Dr Sunil Pokharne said a fire audit was conducted and all safety measures had been taken, Bhosale conceded some mistakes had committed and appropriate action will be taken in the matter. “A committee under the Divisional Commissioner will probe the incident… It seems some mistakes might have been committed regarding fire safety measures. Once the committee report is available, we will take appropriate action in the matter,” he said.

As on date, Ahmednagar district had 2,079 active Covid-19 patients, the third highest in the state after Mumbai (3,819), Pune (3,163). Dr Puna Gandal, Deputy Director of Health Services from the Nashik region, said 10 per cent of the patients were in the ICU and about 30 per cent on oxygen support.

Over the last month, the number of active cases in Ahmednagar had declined by 50.33 per cent. On October 6, as many as 4,186 individuals were being treated in the district for Covid-19.

Since August 2020, a total 56 people, mostly Covid-19 patients, have lost their lives to fire outbreaks in Maharashtra in eight major incidents in hospitals.

When contacted, local corporator Nikhil Ware said, “When i reached the ICU ward, there was total commotion and panic. Nobody knew what to do. Some hospital staff were seen dousing fire with fire extinguishers but seemed to have no clue how to handle them. The hospital emergency team was not in sight nor were senior officials.”

Local MLA Sangram Jagtap blamed the hospital for its lack of preparedness during the pandemic. “A few months back, six Covid patients had died in ICU as the ventilators had failed. In one instance, the hospital had crammed several bodies in one ambulance and sent to the crematorium,” he said, adding that no lessons had been learnt from earlier mistakes.

Union Minister Bharati Pawar too said the committee would help the administration understand the exact cause of the fire. “Any action in this matter will be taken only after the committee submits its report,” she said.

State Minister Jayant Patil said, “I have been told that the fire audit was conducted, and all safety measures taken… but only the probe will find out whether there were loopholes and whether all necessary steps were taken to ensure fire safety.” He denied the government was not serious despite recurring fire tragedies in state hospitals.

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