The Serum Institute blaze and the horrific death of children in the Bhandara hospital fire accident highlight the crying need for zero tolerance safety protocols

Fire accidents are perhaps more frequent than we would like to believe. The prominent ones make it to mainstream news and we can use those as reference points to analyse the dangers and damages. The more recent ones at the serum institute and the hospital where children were charred to death once again laid bare the worst kept secret about the lack of fire preparedness in most industrial units including hospitals, oil installations and corporate high rises to name a few.

If we were to jog our memory back further, the ESIC hospital fire proved that even government buildings and facilities are guilty of flouting safety and exigency protocols wholesale.

Too often, safety during construction and operation suffers dilution due to cost considerations, with almost no fire awareness among workers. Seventeen babies were admitted at the Special Newborn Care Unit (SNCU) of the four-storeyed hospital in Maharashtra's Bhandara district, about 900 km from the state capital Mumbai when a massive fire killed 10 of them in what can best be described as a horrific inferno.

All of those who died were aged between a few days and three months, as per reports. "Ten children died in a fire that broke out at the SNCU of Bhandara District General Hospital (early January). Seven children were rescued from the unit," District civil surgeon Pramod Khandate said. Nurses on duty first noticed smoke coming out from the neonatal care unit, according to reports, and raised alarm.

"Our staff extinguished the fire as soon as they could. The smoke led to the babies suffocating," Dr Khandate said. The hospital had been found to be negligent at practically all levels in very basic safety preparedness and exigency protocols.


Serum institute fire

The Serum Institute of India (SII) said it had suffered losses of over ? 1,000 crore due to the massive fire that had broken out at its premises in Pune. Five contractual labourers died in the fire that broke out in a five-storey building in the SII's Manjari premises in Pune.

The chief minister himself visited the SII to take stock of the damages. He later addressed a press conference with Adar Poonawalla, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the SII.

Mr Poonawalla said: "The extent of the damage is more than ? 1,000 crore because of the equipment and products over there that were to be launched." He, however, reiterated that the Covishield vaccine production has not been impacted due to the blaze.

"Fortunately, we have got multiple facilities and as chief minister sir has explained, the COVID-19 vaccine's supply will not be affected due to the incident," Mr Poonawalla added.

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said that the initial fire was caused by some ongoing welding work at the site. The fire broke out at about 2:45 pm at an under-construction building where vaccine production was supposed to start after a month.



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