Media and police personnel gather outside the district general hospital at Bhandara on Saturday.
Media and police personnel gather outside the district general hospital at Bhandara on Saturday.

Mumbai: The successive state governments in Maharashtra have done little on the improvement in fire safety and security management in public hospitals. This is despite the government directive issued way back in 2011 after a major fire in AMRI Hospital in 2011 in Dhakuria, Kolkata. The fire claimed 89 victims and was reportedly caused by a short circuit in the basement.

Taking a serious note of the incident, the public health department in a notification had asked all government hospitals to further strengthen fire safety management, conduct periodical fire and safety audits, put in place a sprinkler system and carry out regular inspection of electrical installations to handle fire incidents and avoid casualties. However, a state health department officer admitted that the government hospitals lack a full proof safety management system and data in that regard has not been updated.

In Maharashtra, the public health system consists of 10,580 sub centres, 1,811 primary health centres (PHCs), 360 rural and 28 sub-district hospitals, 23 district civil hospitals, 4 general hospitals, 11 women hospitals and 2 super speciality hospitals. The officer said today’s incident at the state-run hospital at Bhandara where 10 babies died after fire broke out will bring the fire safety at the centrestage but what matters is implementation which has been lacking over the years.

The officer said “Preliminary inquiry into the Bhandra hospital incident revealed that the fire alarm and sprinkler system were not operational. Electrical installation was not in order and the smoke detector was not working. Had that been working it would have led to a fire alarm which would have paved the way for quick removal of babies from the ward. Further, what was shocking was response mechanism and fire alarm detection were not in place.’’ He further stated that smoke created from plastic was toxic and it led to suffocation of new born babies.

The officer also admitted that the government could not find a suitable person to be appointed as the Director Fire Service as the post has been vacant for the last six years.

Milind Kumar Deshmukh, former Director and Fire Advisor to Government of Maharashtra, told the Free Press Journal, “The electrical system was not in order. If the fire broke due to short circuit, then automatically the electric supply should have been tripped avoiding the further hazard. Probably the mattresses and other material used may be of an inferior quality thereby liberating the toxic fumes. Due to winter, the entire room was closed that did not vent out smoke outside and the accumulation of smoke might have made the babies breathless succumbing to the death.’’

He argued that had the fire alarm and smoke detection system been active it would have alerted the hospital staff and speedy response to the tune of evacuation of babies would have saved their lives.

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Free Press Journal