FIRE DISASTER: Fire in operation theatre – Oxygen cylinders trigger panic in NBMCH – adequate fire protection arrangements missing & alternative outlet door systems still locked, no lessons learnt from earlier Steven Court disaster, naturally Bengal ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, June 13: A fire broke out from an AC in the operation theatre of the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital’s emergency ward today, triggering panic because of the presence of 10 oxygen cylinders. Local people joined in a prompt evacuation drive in the adjacent wards and brought out 30 patients.
At 11.30am, Anil Ghosh, a visitor, who was standing near the main door leading to the emergency ward, noticed wisps of faint black smoke coming out of the OT. By the time he reached the OT door, the smoke had thickened and had filled the entire room and had started to billow out into the corridors and the male and the female casualty wards.
“Some people standing next to me, too, noticed the smoke. In no time, the smoke had spread all over the building. Nurses and relatives were running here and there to evacuate the patients from the emergency ward. We also started helping them,” said Ghosh, who had come to see his wife admitted to the gynaecology ward.
Swapna Bishnu, a nurse at the NBMCH, had just finished cleaning the OT and was in the adjoining room stowing away surgical masks, when the relative of a patient informed her of the smoke coming out of the OT.
“I had left the OT around 11.15am. The floor of the OT had just been mopped. So, I had left the AC on so that it would dry. We rushed in to see that the AC had caught fire and thick smoke was emanating from it. I immediately called the ward master who informed the NBMCH authorities,” Swapna said.
Soon the local people rushed in and started helping the hospital staff in evacuating the patients. They had to break the lock of an alternative exit of the male casualty ward since smoke had filled the main exit.
“There was no way we could take the patients out of the main exit and so we broke the lock of the alternative exit. The patients were frail and weak and it took us some time to take them out but all are safe,” said Pallav Sarkar, a resident of the area.
Altogether, 30 patients were in the male and female casualty wards and the burns unit at the time of the incident. The patients were kept on the verandah for around 20 minutes before they were accommodated in the female orthopaedic ward and male surgical ward on the instruction of the superintendent of the NBMCH, Samir Ghosh Roy.
“Smoke had filled our ward and I started panicking and called out for my mother in despair. Soon some men came, put me in a wheelchair and took me out of the building,” said Suparna Biswas, who had been admitted to the female casualty ward with a fractured right leg.
Two fire tenders reached the hospital from the Matigara fire station, 8km away, around 11.45am and doused the flames within one hour.
“We took out nearly 10 oxygen cylinders from the OT in time. If they had burst, the fire would have spread and the damage caused would have been very serious,” said Sudhansu Majumdar, a fire officer.
Asked about fire fighting arrangements at the NBMCH, the superintendent said: “We have fire protection arrangements but they were not adequate to deal with this kind of blaze.”
“Excess electricity had flowed into the plug point of the AC which caused the fire. There is no proper fire protection and prevention mechanism at the NBMCH. On several occasions earlier, we had recommended the installation of proper fire protection arrangements and regular check-ups of the electrical system but got no response from the authorities,” said U.N. Adhikari, the deputy director of the fire department (north Bengal).