It took officials at the Vijay Vallabh Hospital in Virar around 35 minutes to inform the fire department about the blaze that engulfed the ICU unit on its premises and ended up killing 15 people, all Covid-19 patients, during the wee hours of Friday, police and fire officials said on Saturday.
During police inspection, CCTV footage obtained from the hospital showed it going blank at 2.37 am due to an explosion in the ICU but the first call to the fire brigade was made only at 3.13am from a number registered under hospital’s chief administrative officer (CAO),
Meanwhile, it was found that the hospital had got an all-clear from the municipal corporation after a fire safety audit conducted earlier this year.
Officials said Vijay Vallabh hospital had fire extinguishers but no sprinklers to deal with the fire which began in the air conditioning system in the intensive care unit (ICU).
Fire officials said the hospital reached out to them late and only after staffers attempted to douse the flames on their own using fire extinguisher.
CAO Pathak told The Sunday Express that he alerted local police and fire brigade as soon as he was told about it.
“By the time I reached, fire brigade was already on the spot,” he said.
While 13 patients died on the hospital premises itself, two others died in other hospitals where they were shifted.
Dr Surekha Walke, medical officer in Vasai Virar Municipal Corporation (VVMC), said the hospital had conducted a fire audit earlier this year and was given a clean chit. She said a probe is underway to assess whether the fire safety equipment was in place on the night of mishap. “The hospital asked us for permission to operate as Covid facility and we approved. We are not concerned with how much staff or resources they have to manage patients,” she said.
Raising suspicion over the fire clearance, Manoj Barot, Vasai Virar district Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice president, said he has written to the commissioner to make details of the audit public. “We are demanding a fresh audit of the building. How did the hospital get clearance by the corporation?” he asked.
Crime branch officials said they are trying to find out what Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was followed during the audit. “We need to check whether SOP followed in auditing this hospitals is at par with SOP followed across the state,” an official said.
The Crime Branch unit 2 of Mira-Bhayandar Vasai-Virar (MBVV) police investigating the incident questioned the chief fire officer in VVMC DM Palav on Saturday.
The Crime Branch is investigating charges of culpable homicide against the owner and management of the hospital, registered on Friday at Arnala police station by the VVMC.
The Indian Express visited the hospital on Saturday and tried to speak with its managing director Dr Dilip Shah but he refused to meet. All the remaining patients seemed to have been moved out and nursing staff was nowhere to be seen. Only security guards were seen seated around the lobby.
A fire official said a team reached the hospital within five minutes of the call and ensured the fire did not spread.
A fire officer rued that despite the officials risking their lives, the municipal corporation has hired them on a contract basis and pays them a meagre take-home pay of Rs 18,000.
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