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Holes in hospitals’ fire safety net

Calcutta, July 14: Yesterday’s blaze at an eatery on the SSKM hospital premises that killed two persons has laid bare the lack of fire safety in most state-run hospitals.

Visits to some of the hospitals revealed that the authorities and staff are not bothered about the hazards.

There are no fire-fighting devices or trained personnel at any of the five major state-run hospitals in the city. Adding to the danger is the practice of using electric heaters in wards.

The nurses’ room at the surgery department of Calcutta Medical College and Hospital has an electric heater, which is used for making tea or coffee, and sometimes for cooking.

On the first floor of the chest department building at Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital, a Group D employee was boiling water on a heater in the afternoon. “It is required for a patient, so where will we get it'” he asked.

The scene at the R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital casualty block was the same. A ward boy was serving tea to the staff.

“This practice has not stopped despite several warnings,” a health department official said.

Things are worse at the ground floor canteen in NRS’s casualty block. An LPG cylinder — the culprit at SSKM yesterday — is used in the canteen. The canteen is adjacent to the lift that carries patients, many of them with oxygen cylinders.

Oxygen cylinders near patients’ beds and anaesthetic devices, spirit, alcohol and gas kept in storerooms and used in operation theatres are highly inflammable and can cause a major fire in case of a leak.

But most buildings in these hospitals do not even have fire extinguishers. There is also no water source close to either R.G. Kar or Calcutta National Medical College.

“Most of the state-run hospitals don’t have any fire-fighting devices,” fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said.

He added that the hospital authorities have never bothered to send their personnel for fire safety training.

A team of forensic experts today visited the Amantran eatery at SSKM, while Congress and Trinamul Congress supporters handed a memorandum to the hospital authorities in protest against the mishap.

Three persons arrested in connection with the fire — Mintu Guha Roy, Amar Dutta and Rajesh Lal Mallick — were produced in court today and remanded in police custody till July 19.

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