Hospital fires have become a recurring phenomenon during the pandemic. As the nation fights to meet the mounting challenge of the second wave, the continuing hospital fires reveal the pathetic state of public health infrastructure in India even a year after. Ten things need to be urgently done to avert hospital fires.
1 The central government has issued fire safety guidelines as early as September 2020. The compliance to these guidelines have to be reviewed and the measures to fill the gaps should be prioritised.
2 Several states, especially Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh have earlier faced such hospital fires. The nation needs to know the past mistakes to prevent future mishaps. Therefore, states have to document their learnings and experiences have to be shared. The best practices need to be popularised. It is true that health infrastructure is created on an emergency basis. But, that cannot be a justification for subjecting COVID-19 patients to fire accidents.
3 Based on the experiences, two separate checklists have to be prepared for preventing fire accidents at COVID cared centres and the measures to be adopted to save the patient in the case of a tragic event. Such checklist need to be meticulously adhered to. Any slackness in this regard can prove to be fatal.
4 There is a nexus between greedy private hospital management and the corrupt government officials entrusted with the responsibility to ensure adherence to fire safety. Therefore, third party safety audit by accredited agencies should be made mandatory. Such agencies should also be held accountable for any failures to avoid their nexus with private health care providers.
5 At least ten high courts are scrutinising the COVID-19 management measures taken by the state governments. Even the Supreme Court of India has also focussed its attention on the subject. Courts have been making governments accountable on availability of beds, oxygen, essential medicines, ventilators, vaccine roll out, enforcement of COVID-19 appropriate behaviour etc. Fire safety should be added to the list.
6 There should be a comprehensive fire safety audit of all the COVID-19 health care infrastructure. Such audits should be repeated in regular intervals to ensure strict compliance.
7 Intensive care units (ICUs) should be equipped with an exhaust system to prevent smoke accumulation in the wake of fire breakout.
8 Provide ventilation cut-outs to stop blaze from spreading.
9 There should be a periodic maintenance of electric supply systems, fire safety equipment etc.
10 Provide facilities for evacuating critically ill COVID patients who are on the life support system.
-By Prof K Nageshwar