When smoke from the fire began to spread to the second floor of the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation Hospital, senior gynaecologist Manisha Gandhewar was in the out-patient department, with at least 27 patients waiting to meet her.
She handed her mobile phone to somebody, and jumped from a second floor window. She attempted to get hold of a rope on the facade, but slipped and fell on the glass shards that were on the ground. Gandhewar was rushed to R N Cooper Hospital, where she is in a critical condition.
For doctors, staff and patients in the 325-bed ESIC Hospital, the smoke and ensuing chaos meant nobody was certain which direction to rush towards. “I ran down the staircase and that was the last time I saw Dr Gandhewar,” said resident doctor Reetu Goenka. Goenka herself heard the fire alarm and sped down the stairs immediately. “There was a lot of smoke. She (Gandhewar) got scared, so she turned back into the ward and tried to escape from the window.”
Questions about fire safety measures remain
The fire at the ESIC Hospital in Andheri raises serious questions about fire safety measures at city hospitals. Following a major fire at AMRI Hospital in Kolkata in 2011 in which 93 lives were lost, the Mumbai Fire Brigade had undertaken a fire audit of hospitals. The audit revealed shocking non-compliance of fire safety measures in 30 private as well as 26 state and BMC-run hospitals. The fire brigade had issued notices for these violations — even basic equipment such as fire extinguishers, fire alarms and sprinklers among others, had been found missing. Many hospitals had blocked fire exits with unwanted articles. A few ESIC hospitals were also found violating fire safety norms. But seven years later, the situation has not changed much.
Gandhewar’s husband Rajesh said he received a call from her colleague that she was injured. She has been working with the hospital for more than 10 years. Her brother Deepak Devre told The Indian Express that the Worli resident has suffered multiple fractures from the fall. A doctor at R N Cooper said: “Gandhewar’s vitals are stable but we are still assessing if there is any serious injury. There are chances of edema.” She also suffered from breathing problems due to inhalation of smoke.
At least one other person jumped and survived. Nurse Arun Pilanpur (40) was on the fourth floor when the fire started. “I jumped from the fourth floor. There was no other way to escape,” he said, as he lay on a cot awaiting a CT scan at R N Cooper Hospital.
One of the critically injured patients, Pilanpur has suffered injuries to the abdomen, hand and face, initial investigation showed. The injuries were all caused by the fall. He first stayed back on the fourth floor when the fire started. It has the medical intensive care unit and female medical ward of the hospital. “He jumped when the smoke became unbearable,” said another nurse, Shashidhar Shenoy. On the third floor are the gynaecology ward, male surgery ward, neonatal intensive care unit and the administration unit. On the second floor is the out patient department for various units.
“Several of our staffers led patients out to safety. I ran through the corridor that leads to the under-contraction building,” said gynaecologist Dr Jaya Gada, who was on the third floor when the fire started on the ground floor. She was in the gynaecology department’s labour ward.
Dr Reshma Verma, deputy chief medical superintendent at ESIC Hospital, was at a review meeting when the fire started. “We got a call from a doctor that there was a fire,” she said. A staffer, Pappu Ram, she said, panicked and jumped even as she asked him not to. “We had some water with us, we all tried to help one another.” She added that the fire brigade arrived quickly, but several had started escaping through a back door and the windows that they broke. “A lot of people panicked. We are sorry we lost so many lives,” she said. Verma was amongst four admitted to Holy Spirit Hospital.