A PROPOSAL of Rs 1.51 crore for the installation a new fire safety system in Bhandara civil hospital remains pending with the state government for the past seven months. Early on Saturday, 10 babies, some born just a few days ago, perished in a fire at the hospital’s sick newborn care unit (SNCU).
A senior district official said since 2015, when the SNCU started functioning, it underwent a mock fire drill only once in 2016-17.
In December 2020, Maharashtra National Health Mission director N Ramaswamy wrote to all districts to conduct a fire safety audit in government hospitals. Bhandara is yet to conduct that audit in the hospital.
The fire, which broke out at 1.30 am in the SNCU on the first floor, has also brought to light that the hospital does not have a comprehensive fire extinguishing system. Only the SNCU section has a fire extinguisher, but no training on its use was imparted in the last two years, The Indian Express has learnt from sources at the hospital and district administration.
In May 2020, Bhandara district sent the proposal to the state government to install a fire system, with fire extinguisher, sprinklers, hose reel, and fire alarm system, in the civil hospital. The proposal estimated the cost at Rs 1.51 crore. But there was no response from the health department on this proposal.
“The proposal is for the entire hospital. After technical corrections, it will be approved. We have sent it back with certain corrections,” said Dr Nitin Ambadekar, in-charge of district hospitals, Directorate of Health Services (DHS).
State Health Minister Rajesh Tope told The Indian Express that the SNCU was inaugurated by the previous government without a fire audit.
“The civil surgeon wrote to National Institute of Fire Safety Engineering in Nagpur twice for a fire audit. But the institute did not conduct it. The previous government should not have started the SNCU without compliance of fire norms,” he said.
Asked about the delay in clearing the proposal for a fire system, Tope said, “I was not aware of this proposal. I will look into it and get it approved.”
The ground-plus-three-storey building has 482 beds and, early last year, over 300 beds were added for Covid-19 treatment. The building was constructed in 1981, and the SNCU was a relatively new construction inaugurated in 2015.
While a fire drill is supposed to be held every year, the hospital’s last drill was in 2016-17 under National Health Mission’s Kayakalp scheme.
“The scheme is about cleanliness, infection control practices and hygiene. The mock drill was held only then, after that not even a single drill was held,” a senior doctor said.
Fire safety guidelines under National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH) mandate a hospital to have fire extinguisher, hose reel, wet riser, automatic or manual fire alarm system, as basic requirements for firefighting if the hospital has more than two floors. The civil hospital has only one fire extinguisher for every floor. There is no fire alarm system, sprinkler or hose reel. The SNCU section has an exit door, as per fire norms, and a fire extinguisher. The exit door aided in rescuing babies on Saturday.
The state government on Saturday formed a committee of health officials, electrical, engineering and maintenance departments to probe how the fire started and spread.
National Health Mission norms on maintenance of SNCU mandate that there should be no loose hanging wires or connections in ward, engineer must test electrical installations, and oxygen, air and vacuum wall outlets must be maintained properly. Since the SNCU was constructed in 2015, its wiring and fixtures are in good condition.
Dr Archana Patil, director of family planning in DHS, said it was unclear how the fire spread so quickly in the SNCU. “We will have to wait for the fire inspection report,” she said.
The entire hospital’s internal wiring system, except the SNCU, is old. A district-level official, requesting anonymity, said they had written to the public works department to repair or replace the wiring system. “The request remains pending,” the official said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines