Over 200 high-rise hospitals in Bengaluru, including multi-specialty hospitals, have not complied with fire safety standards, according to the city’s Fire and Emergency Services. This is alarming as hospitals are highly vulnerable to fire disasters and fatalities in such incidents tend to be higher. For one, patients being unwell are difficult to evacuate immediately. Several are hooked on to ventilators and other such equipment. Evacuating patients from the ground floor is difficult. It is a veritable nightmare to evacuate them from higher floors. Additionally, hospitals need to stock oxygen cylinders. Besides stocking them in a store room, oxygen cylinders are kept in patients’ rooms. Some hospitals have oxygen pipelines. These help a fire spread quickly. Thus, a mere short circuit can turn a spark into a raging inferno. One would think therefore that hospital authorities would be extra-vigilant about making hospital buildings fire-proof and adhering scrupulously to fire safety norms. But they are not, say Bengaluru’s Fire and Emergency Services authorities.
Cost-cutting and callous disregard of norms are usually the reasons for buildings turning into death traps in fire tragedies. Builders use inferior quality wiring to cut costs. Staircases, which are the only way out in high rise buildings during a fire disaster, are often far too narrow to accommodate stretchers. Hospital authorities don’t bother so much as to check whether the builder acquired a no-objection certificate from fire safety authorities. The main consideration while choosing a building for a hospital, a mall or a movie theatre is profitability. Is the building situated in an area that will draw good business? It is ironic that hospitals are there to save the lives of people. However, they seem to be the least bothered about their patients’ lives.
India has witnessed scores of fire tragedies in hospitals. A fire at Kolkata’s AMRI hospital in 2011 claimed 89 lives. SUM Hospital in Bhubaneswar went up in flames in 2016, killing 22 people. Around a hundred patients undergoing treatment in the hospital’s intensive care unit suffered severe burns. Early this month, a fire raged through Metro Hospitals and Heart Institute in Noida. It did not have a fire licence. Clearly, hospital authorities have not learnt any lessons. But fire service authorities need to be more vigilant, too. Apparently, the hospital had applied for a renewal of a licence but fire safety officials did not issue one. They were dragging their feet in inspecting the safety measures put in place by the hospital. Fire safety authorities also say that periodic mock drills at hospitals are necessary. These rarely happen. Such drills should be made mandatory every six months not just in hospitals but in all public buildings, especially high-rises.