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Poor exigency options, defunct fire alarms claim 6 lives in esic hospital fire

At least six people died and 129 others were injured in a fire that broke out Monday, 17th December, in a hospital in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital, police said. It was a horrific spectacle which saw people leap out of the building to escape the blaze.

The fire in the five-storey government-run ESIC Kamgar Hospital in the suburban Andheri area was believed to have been caused by an electrical short-circuit, said police officer A.P. Lokhand.

This is a government-owned hospital meant for government servants and the irony is stark. The hospital did not have a NOC from the fire department or an Occupation Certificate. The last fire NOC was granted in 2009 and further NOC was not given to this hospital because of discrepancies. The fire alarms did not go off, reports Timesnownews.com. There was not enough fire safety equipment in the hospital, the report goes on to say. “There were no clear exits in the hospital. Five floors of the hospital were being evacuated with zero safety”, said the reporter on live TV.

This was a 5-storey hospital with ONE EXIT only. Windows were shut and the smoke did not have escape avenues leave alone the people, according to a local who was trying to help out. The saviors broke all the windows including in the ICU. The bystanders said that had there been a back exit it would have been much easier but without that, the task for the fire brigade as well as common helpers was made much more difficult.

It is a sad reality that lack of awareness on basic safety issues and casual negligence of essentials has claimed so many lives but no lessons are learnt. Exigency solutions, paraphernalia and training should be non-negotiable in closed spaces especially hospitals and infirmaries where the inmates themselves may be physically or mentally challenged. However an accident like this recent one fills us with that déjà vu feeling that we are almost used to.

Installation of emergency lights, photoluminescent signages to guide people in dark conditions to see and move to the nearest exit, fire extinguishers, first aid kits and multiple exit points cleared of clutter to facilitate quick exit when seconds separate life and death. These are not luxuries but essentials.

The fire in the ESIC kamgar hospital is no isolated case. Here too, a close look shows gross negligence and contempt of exigency protocols. Fire chief P.S. Rahangdale said the smoke engulfed the entire building and rescuers were running helter skelter searching all of the floors to see if any patients, hospital staff or visitors were still trapped there.

A report succinctly put it, “A Times of India newspaper report said 49 patients were evacuated and shifted to nearby hospitals. Fires are common in India, where building laws and safety norms are often flouted by builders and residents. In December last year, a late-night fire in a Mumbai restaurant killed 14 people.”