No government tertiary care hospital has a regulated fire safety mechanism

The fire accident in AMRI Hospital, Kolkata, has brought the issue of fire safety in city hospitals in sharp focus.

While the twin tower blocks of the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital complies with the fire safety norms stipulated by the National Building Code, the old buildings have installed fire extinguishers. The Government Kilpauk Hospital, in which three persons died in a fire in the intensive care unit in June, is still “in the process of complying” (as on November 14) according to the information sought from Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services through a Right To Information Act query filed by The Hindu.

Response from the TNFRS further revealed that none of the government tertiary care hospitals has a regulated fire safety mechanism. No mock drills are conducted by the staff, though officials of the TNFRS periodically inspect the institutions and advise the hospital administrative heads to rectify the lapses.

The Fire Services department notes the observations in its log books after inspection but there is no follow-up until the next inspection.

Adherence to safety measures would have prevented the panic experienced by the hospital staff and patient attendants at the Government Children's Hospital, Egmore, when the air-condition unit malfunctioned on November 30. Infants and babies were rushed out of the intensive care unit when a duty doctor saw smoke emanating from an AC unit. While it was dismissed as a minor incident, eye witnesses recalled the horror on the face of the parents, most of who hail from poor families with little means.

Fire Service personnel note that the constant movement of people makes it impossible to conduct a mock drill in government hospitals. “It would only create panic among patients. We have conducted drills at the GH (opposite Central Station) occasionally using the hospital staff with a few of the patient-attendants as observers. Also, during every inspection, which is done biannually, we speak to the hospital staff about the fire safety measures,” says a fire officer. There is little information about the training of the hospital staff on handling fire extinguishers.

A.K. Ravi Kumar, State secretary, Nursing Home Board, says: “Most members get the fire safety licence and follow the procedures. Two years ago we started accrediting hospitals that comply with all requirements during inspections. Fire safety is one of the norms for qualification,” he says.

Of the 750 member hospitals in Chennai region, 150 are accredited.

According to Indian Medical Association general secretary T.N. Ravishankar, “Regular mock drills will help the lower-level employees use their reflexes during such emergencies.”

Corporation's initiative

The Chennai Corporation's Public Health Department seeks details such as provision of blueprint of the building plan, measures such as arrangement provided for emergency exit and ventilation, number of rooms and beds, dimensions of open spaces, yards, verandas, ventilators, doors and windows and alterations from building plan before the nursing home/hospital/clinic is registered.

According to City Health Officer P. Kuganantham, around 530 of the 760 institutions in the city have been registered. “Chennai began ensuring fire safety and checking for emergency exits, cross ventilation and electrical wire safety proactively,” he says.

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