Hundred seconds is all it took for a ventilator inside ICU1 on the first floor of the SSG Covid-19 hospital in Vadodara to burst into flames and cover the entire ward into a cloud of smoke in the fire incident that occurred around 7 pm on Tuesday. But in that 100 seconds, three young doctors in their 20s not only ensured that the fire was doused at its source before it could spread through the oxygen pipelines or reach the surgical oxygen cylinder standing just about 8 feet away.
Throughout those crucial 100 seconds, senior resident from the Department of General Surgery Dr Jwalit Mistry, third-year resident of Department of Anaesthesiology Dr SP Kanchanaa, and her junior from the first year Dr Jinal Solanki remained calm and focused on the hand at task. While Dr Mistry rushed for the ABC fire extinguisher, Dr Solanki and Dr Kanchanna started evacuating the patients. Both Dr Mistry and Dr Solanki say that they were just two days into their first Covid-19 ward duty since the outbreak of the pandemic and had only begun their shift on Sunday.
In the first few seconds of the fire, Dr Solanki immediately rushed towards the patient –an aged male — who was on the same ventilator and removed the attachments and helped him out of the bed. Visibly unwell and unable to balance himself, the man leaned and walked out slowly as Solanki lent him a hand, while Dr Kanchanna rushed towards another elderly female patient to detach her equipment.
The fire, which had now turned into a formidable flame, spread on to the bedcover as well as some wires on the floor even as Dr Mistry continued to empty the ABC extinguisher on the machine. In about three minutes, the fire had been brought under control with help from other staff members, who also rushed in with more extinguishers — snapping the electricity supply to the entire floor which had three ICU units and two recovery rooms. But for the three doctors, it is now an event that will remain etched in memory.
Speaking to The Indian Express, 27-year-old Mistry, originally a resident of Ahmedabad, said that the focus of the three doctors relied on our instinct to ensure that the casualty is contained to a minimum.
Dr Mistry says, “The focus was on two points — one that the fire has to be contained. An ICU is a dangerous place. We have oxygen pipeline all across the walls. We had an oxygen cylinder standing very close and it would have caused a huge blast had the fire come in contact with either the pipes or the cylinder. So my first instinct, the moment Kanchanna and Jinal called out to me was to rush for the extinguisher. My original duty was at the Covid-19 recovery room and I was visiting the ICU at that time to see if they need any help. The core team attending to patients in ICU are from anaesthesiology, general medicine and pulmonary medicine departments.”
Both Dr Mistry and Dr Solanki said they were unable to attend the training seminar held by the Vadodara Fire and Emergency Services Department of the VMC just a couple of days ago.
Solanki was on a ward duty, while Mistry was appearing for his Masters of Surgery (MS) exam.
Mistry says, “During my undergraduate course in VS Medical College in Ahmedabad, there had been a couple of small fires and I had seen how they were dealt with. I am very calm by nature and so I used my best instinct to do what I did although I was dressed in a PPE suit which is the most dangerous to be in during a fire. I am just glad that we prevented the fire from reaching the oxygen and averted a tragedy while the patients were immediately evacuated.”
The doctors describe that some patients were evacuated by the staff in bedsheet stretchers, while some were wheeled out on their beds.
Dr Solanki, 25, describes herself as a “reluctant medical student, who has now fallen in love with healing people”. Solanki, who is also a resident of Ahmedabad and completed her MBBS from Rajkot, has been posted at Vadodara’s SSG hospital only for three months and was two days into her first Covid-19 ICU duty when the incident occurred.
When asked to recall what occurred, Solanki said, “Actually, Dr Kanchanna and I were suspecting a malfunction in the ventilator that was standing to the left of the one that actually blew up. It was Dr Kanchanna who heard some unusual sounds and a flicker. So I tried to change the socket of the first ventilator and in that instant, there was noise and a spark in the other ventilator. We called out to Dr Mistry and I rushed to evacuate the old man, who was on the support of the same ventilator. We wanted to do something so that the fire does not spread to the oxygen supply and cylinder. It could have blown up the floor and caused a massive casualty.”
According to Mistry, the doctors first vacated ICU-1 and then ICU 2 and 3, shifting 36 of 39 patients to the vacant beds on the second ICU floor –three were shifted to GMERS Gotri.
Solanki says, “When I look at the video now, I feel I was a bit slow in shifting the patient. I should have been quicker in my response.”
When asked about missing on the fire drill, Solanki said, “I now realise that it is important to be trained. I am looking forward to attending another seminar on fire safety because we will continue to be on Covid-19 duties for some time,” she says. When asked if the incident of fire at Shrey hospital in Ahmedabad crossed their minds, both Mistry and Solanki said that the fire inside the ICU1 of SSG on Tuesday was so quick that there was no time to think about anything else. “I was only thinking of containing the fire before me,” Mistry said.
Officer on Special Duty Vinod Rao felicitated about 25 staff members, including eight doctors, who were on duty on the floor on Thursday evening, with a shawl and a standing ovation for their presence of mind and courage in ensuring that there was no casualty in the fire.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines