Two security guards, a hospital helper and two ambulance drivers rushed in to rescue the newborns trapped in the fire at the Bhandara Civil Hospital in the early hours of Saturday, after Fire Brigade officials broke glass windows of the sick newborn care unit (SNCU), but managed to save only seven of the 17 babies inside.
Ambulance driver Rajkumar Kishanji Dahekar (37) was at home when he received a call about the fire. “I live close by. I thought an ambulance might be required to transport patients, so I rushed there,” said Dahekar.
When he reached the hospital, he saw people, including several staffers, rushing out. Thick black smoke billowed out of the first floor. “There was no way we could go inside the ward at that point. When the Fire Brigade arrived, they put up a ladder till the first floor and smashed the windows. A few of us volunteered to go inside,” said Dahekar.
Two hospital security guards and two ambulance drivers, including Dahekar, and a hospital helper went up the ladder and entered the ward through the windows. They found seven children in cots in one section, where there was less smoke.
“I picked three babies from the cot with all machines beeping, and handed them to the nurses who were waiting outside the door. They rushed down with the babies. Others also picked babies and handed them over. But there were a few babies in the other section, where there was a lot of smoke and fire. We could not go there,” said Dahekar.
He said when fire officials broke the glass window, few officials rushed to the SNCU section, where the smoke was the thickest, to douse the fire and rescue the babies. A few people accompanied the security personnel and helper into the section where seven babies lay in their cots. A senior doctor from the hospital said staff were able to direct the Fire Brigade towards where the babies’ cots were located.
Dahekar later saw that some babies had sustained burn injuries in the other section. “The firemen went to get babies from that section. Two babies suffered bad burn injuries. But there was nothing we could do, they had died by then,” he said.
Security guard Gaurav Repade said he was near the hospital gate when he received the alert, at around 1.40 am. “When another guard I and went up, I saw the fire in the ward. I realised I can’t go alone… so I rushed back to call for help. When I returned to the ward, the entire ward was filled with smoke,” he said.
Repade said the Fire Brigade was able to reach within 15 minutes and break the windows on the first floor. “Once the windows were broken, it helped smoke come out, and visibility improved to some extent. So, we went through the window and then via a backdoor into the ward,” he says.
“We tried hard to enter the section where 10 babies were kept separately. But it was impossible for us to breathe. Most of the babies… died because of suffocation,” Repade said.
District Civil Surgeon Dr Pramod Khandate said the rescue of seven children was a joint effort by hospital staff and Fire Brigade. “All seven babies are stable. For now, we have kept them in a separate ward,” he said.
While ambulance driver Dahekar said there was only one nurse and helper in the ward when the fire broke out, district authorities have said there were two nurses, a helper and a doctor posted in SNCU at the time of the incident.
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