By Sanjay K Bissoyi:
On October 17, 2016, a dreadful fire tragedy brought a horrific end to 19 people’s lives in a private hospital in the capital city of Odisha, Bhubaneswar. They did not breathe their last breath for ailments, but because they consumed fire which broke out at the dialysis unit of the SUM hospital. There are several people injured, who are undergoing treatment in various hospitals across the country including AIIMS, Delhi. ICU is for the most vulnerable patients and the blaze there shows heights of insensitivity towards safety on the part of the authority. It is reported that SUM hospital does not possess a fire safety certificate as it had blatantly overlooked Odisha government’s 2013 advisory to improve fire fighting mechanisms. Odisha has 1200 private institutions, shockingly only three have the fire safety certificates. It is not only a sorrowful incident but also a warning for the state as well as the country.
In 2011, a fire had broken out at Advanced Medical Research Institute (AMRI) in Kolkata and 90 people lost their lives. Investigations showed that there was a litany of violations before the tragedy. The basement of hospital was packed with various ignitable chemicals and medical waste. The hospital was short of adequate fire-fighting apparatus. The most appalling information was that the hospital staff informed the fire brigade an hour-and-a-half after the fire broke out. The hospital had many loopholes to fill which would have otherwise controlled the fire explosion. In the aftermath of the AMRI incident, the government had pursued safety measures for each and every hospital in India and had ordered them to follow the rules and regulations strictly. However, that has clearly fallen on deaf ears.
After the AMRI incident, although the Odisha government ordered every institution to follow the instructions, fires broke out at SCB Medical College, Acharya Harihar Regional Cancer Centre and Sishu Bhawan. Although, major casualties were not reported, public properties were destroyed. The government had investigated the incidents, but so far no action has been taken against the culprits. Most of the hospitals have no necessary occupancy and fire safety certificates, which are required under the Odisha Clinical Establishments (Control and Regulation) Act, 1990, National Building Code and Odisha Fire Service Act, 1993. The Director of Medical Education and Training (DMET) should have scrutinised all measures before renewal of licences of hospitals, but wilful negligence of institutions is clearly visible. Hospitals, also hotels, company buildings etc., hang fire extinguishers on the walls and put an end to their accountability.
Moreover, most of the staff are not familiar with the use of fire extinguishers, despite it being a rule that every employee must be trained to use a fire extinguisher. According to the National Building Code, 2005, there must be a sprinkler, fire alarm, smoke detection system, wet raiser and a yard hydrant in every 15-metre high building. Nonetheless, not every institution is following the rules.
A good number of people from neighbouring states such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal come to Odisha for two reasons. One is for better medical treatment at a lower cost in comparison to metro cities and another is to spend holidays in the amalgamation of temples and scenic beauties of the state. The SUM incident is a major setback to Odisha’s growing medical tourism. If such incidents occur regularly, the dream to make Bhubaneswar a medical hub will remain a distant one. However, we don’t seem to be learning any new lesson from such horrendous tragedies. The time has come to introspect and implement safety measures. The state government should use this incident as an occasion to transform the system and reinstate the public’s faith in hospitals.