Virar hospital fire: 14 COVID-19 patients dead; short circuit in AC unit suspected

In a tragic incident, 14 Covid patients, including five women, died after a massive fire broke out in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a private health care facility in Virar during the wee hours on Friday. The incident happened even as a deadly second wave of infections is raging in the state. While 13 patients were charred to death in the ICU, one patient died while being taken to another hospital.

According to the Palghar district administration, the fire was reported in the ICU located on the second floor of the four-storey Vijay Vallabh Hospital in Tirupati Nagar in Virar (west).

While 17 critically ill patients were undergoing treatment for Covid-19 in the ICU, around 85 others were admitted in general wards. Firefighters from the Vasai Virar Municipal Corporation (VVMC) immediately reached the spot with three fire engines and managed to extinguish the blaze after a two-hour firefighting operation which lasted till 5:20 am.

Preliminary investigations indicated that a short-circuit in the central air-conditioning unit had triggered a blast leading to a massive blaze.

An employee of the hospital said the AC system was not working since Thursday afternoon and some repair work was on. "When I went to the hospital yesterday afternoon, the air conditioner was not working in the COVID-19 ward. I saw that some repair work was going on as the AC panels had been removed," Supriya Deshmukh, a staffer at the hospital, told a regional news channel.

''The hospital had set up some fans as a makeshift arrangement. After finishing my work I returned home late in the evening," she said.

While 13 patients were charred to death, the four others, who were also under treatment in the ICU and were lucky to survive, were shifted to other Covid healthcare facilities in the area.Although, other patients remained unaffected as the damage was confined to the ICU, efforts were on to shift the patients to other hospitals in the vicinity.After hearing about the incident, relatives of the deceased thronged the hospital and demanded stringent action against those who were responsible for the tragedy.Relatives of some of the victims alleged that the staffers of the facility were asleep when the fire broke out and there was nobody to help the patients come out of the ICU.They also alleged that the hospital did not fulfil the basic fire safety requirements.Hospital authorities maintained that medicos were very much on duty in the ICU and other wards and the fire audit was also done; however, the fire spread quickly, not giving any chance for initiating damage control measures.“It was an unfortunate and sad incident. As of now our priority is to ensure safety of other patients by shifting them to other healthcare facilities,” said local legislator Hitendra Thakur.

Relatives of the COVID-19 patients, who died in the incident, complained about the hospital's alleged mismanagement to Shiv Sena leader and state minister Eknath Shinde, when he went to take stock of the situation. The relatives told him that the hospital was understaffed, due to which proper attention was not given to the patients.

“While financial assistance will be given to the kin of the deceased, those found guilty of negligence will not be spared,” said Shinde. Senior officials, including Commissioner of Police Sadanand Date, visited the hospital.

Ten infants were killed in a fire that broke out at a special newborn care unit of the Bhandara district hospital in Maharashtra on January 9. A fire also broke out in Dreams Mall, which had a Covid-designated hospital on its third floor, in the intervening night of March 25-26. The fire, which raged for over 40 hours, claimed nine lives, including those of patients on ventilator support.

Recently, there was a fire incident in a Nagpur hospital, too

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