The fire that killed 10 babies in a hospital in Maharashtra’s Bhandara early on Saturday might have been caused by an explosion in one of the several radiant warmers in the Sick New-born Care Unit (SNCU), believe the officials who carried out a preliminary inspection at the hospital on Sunday.
The radiant warmer burst into flames after the explosion — the first of two loud noises heard by hospital staff that night — and the seven-day-old baby inside “was found burnt like coal”, officials said.
The baby had been abandoned on a roadside, and brought to the hospital by police. This and nine other babies were killed in the fire that broke out in the SNCU of Bhandara District General hospital at 1.30 am on Saturday.
While it is suspected that the fire started after the explosion in the radiant warmer, members of the inquiry committee said they were yet to reach a final conclusion.
“Inquiry is still going on. We will submit the report in a few days. At this point we cannot comment on how or where the fire started. But we will go into each and every detail,” Dr Sadhana Tayade, director of the Directorate of Heath Services (DHS), who is heading the six-member committee, said.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray visited the hospital on Sunday and met the families of the babies who had died.
“I offered my condolences to the parents. There will be a strict inquiry into this incident and we will take action against those responsible,” the CM said.
Hospital sources said the premature baby was admitted in the “out-born” section and kept in a radiant warmer to help maintain his body temperature. The warmers were lined up in a row in the SNCU. The one that had the seven-day-old boy was completely gutted, and the adjoining warmers on either side were partially damaged. Babies in those two warmers also suffered burn injuries. The other babies died due to smoke inhalation.
District officials said hospital management services firm Faber Sindoori conducted an equipment audit at the SNCU on September 2, 2020, and found all equipment working and in good condition. A bi-annual calibration of equipment was conducted on September 16, and the reports were normal.
Speaking to media, Thackeray said, “It is possible that some safety protocols may have been neglected over the past year since the authorities were busy tackling the corona pandemic. But no matter what, if any lapse has occurred, those responsible will not be allowed to go scot-free.”
The government’s inquiry will be headed by Nagpur Divisional Commissioner Sanjiv Kumar, Thackeray said. “Who is responsible, whether any electrical equipment had misfired and whether repeated complaints about it were neglected, etc. will be known only after the inquiry is complete,” he said.
Also, guidelines will be framed for hospitals to ensure that an incident such as this does not recur, he said.
The government has directed the Public Works Department to speed up the proposal to install a fire system in the civil hospital. In May 2020, Bhandara district had sent a proposal to the state government to install a fire system, with fire extinguishers, sprinklers, hose reel, and a fire alarm system, in the civil hospital.
The Deputy Director, Health, Nagpur, had approved the proposal in June and forwarded it to the DHS. “There were technical issues in the proposal. It is now with PWD. We have asked them to submit the proposal soon,” N Ramaswamy, director of National Health Mission, Maharashtra, said.
When contacted, Dr Pramod Khandate, Bhandara civil surgeon, said they had received the proposal back in November for corrections. “PWD will soon submit it,” he said.
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