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Virar Covid hospital fire: AC that caught fire in ICU was repaired a day earlier

Two patients near the ICU exit were awake and rushed out on their own. Had they waited for a few more seconds, the blast would have killed them, an official said, adding that hospital staffers pulled two more patients out of the ward.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala , Jayprakash S Naidu | Mumbai |
Updated: April 24, 2021 3:35:19 am
Mumbai: 15 of 17 ICU patients killed in Covid hospital fire, AC repaired a day earlierPatients who died due to the fire being cremated in Virar, on Friday. (Express Photo by Deepak Joshi)

The CCTV camera footage from the intensive care unit (ICU) of Vijay Vallabh hospital in Virar, which was submitted to the police on Friday, showed that the explosion in the second floor ICU took place within seconds of sparks starting to emanate from an air-conditioner (AC).

Around 3 am, the ICU had one male and one female nurse on duty. There was no doctor. A hospital official said the doctor had gone to the washroom outside the ICU ward when the first sparks from the cassette AC unit fell on the table where the female nurse was sitting.

“She got up, saw more sparks and immediately jumped over a bench towards the exit. The second nurse followed. The female nurse said she had rushed to alert the ward boy and bring help,” said Chief Administrative Officer of the hospital, Dr Shailesh Pathak.

Two patients near the ICU exit were awake and rushed out on their own. Had they waited for a few more seconds, the blast would have killed them, an official said, adding that hospital staffers pulled two more patients out of the ward.

In 12 to 15 seconds since sparks began to emanate from the AC, an explosion rocked the ICU. Thirteen patients present there at that time were charred and the entire ICU was gutted.

Pathak, who also saw the footage, said the camera screen went blank after that. “It all happened in a matter of seconds,” he added.
A private attendant who was hired to look after a female patient by the woman’s family was also present in the ICU. “At 3 am, I decided to take a quick nap and check on my patient around 3.30 am or 4 am. She was in deep asleep. I sat near the nursing counter to take a nap.
Soon after, I heard a noise upstairs and saw smoke coming out from ceiling,” the woman said.

She added that she alerted the second nurse when she saw the sparks and they ran out. “We pressed all alarm buttons. I could not understand what should I do. By the time we alerted everyone and reached the ward, the lights were out. I sat down on the floor, unable to cope due to the smoke. I have no idea who pulled me out of that place.”

The attendant further said that she heard a lot of noise when the fire spread through the ward. “Nobody could go inside the ICU, as it was too dark and smoke was coming out. We could hear loud noises but I do not understand what it was,” she added.

The reception alerted the hospital authorities after 3.10 am. Officials said they called the local police and the fire brigade reached within 10 minutes. The fire was contained within the ICU on second floor.

“Meanwhile, on our way to the hospital, we began calling all ambulances in Vasai, Virar, Nallasopara and Palghar. Those who needed oxygen and ICU support were shifted first. After that people who were weak and had moderate symptoms were moved,” Pathak said.

Hospital CEO Dr Shweta Shukla did not respond to calls.

On Thursday, patients in the ICU had complained that the AC was not functioning properly. A technician had visited by evening and repaired the AC. The fire is suspected to have begun from the compressor unit of the AC. The hospital said the technician, who came comes routinely for repair and maintenance work, “did not report any major fault in the AC”.

A Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation official said the fire was put out by the fire brigade within 10 minutes. “There was a fire extinguisher in the hospital and the staff tried to used it. But smoke was so dense that they could not do much,” said Prestine George, also attached with hospital. He added that two ward boys were on duty at the ICU at that time of the fire. “One ward boy became breathless, but still helped patients get out from the ICU. All patients were on high oxygen flow, some on BiPAP machine. We believe the oxygen further fuelled the fire,” George said.

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