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Blaze near SSKM kids’ ward

- Rush with children down stairs through smoke

Calcutta, Nov. 24: Smoke engulfed the paediatrics department at SSKM Hospital after a fire broke out in an adjacent room tonight, forcing mothers and relatives to rush down from the fifth floor with children in their arms.

Some of the children allegedly felt even more unwell because of the smoke and the trauma of being carried down the stairs at speed.

Hospital superintendent Tamal Kanti Ghosh said 113 children, including some only five or six months old, were in the Alex Ward when the fire broke out around 9.45pm.

Four children on ventilation were shifted to the adult ITU ward and eight others to the ICU where they were kept under observation. The rest of the children were gradually shifted to various other wards.

Mothers who were staying with their children at the paediatrics ward said they panicked and did not dare take the lifts after “the whole place was engulfed in smoke”.

“We thought we might get trapped inside the lifts. We carried our children down the stairs. Our relatives in the night-shelter room downstairs and the nurses and hospital staff helped us,” a mother said.

Medical equipment, such as oxygen cylinders and saline bottles, and medicines too were brought down. Initially, the children were taken to the night-shelter room, where doctors and nurses attended to them.

Five fire engines brought the blaze under control in half an hour.

Hospital superintendent Ghosh said the fire in the seminar room may have started from an air-conditioner or a computer that was not switched off and got overheated. He said PWD experts would probe the cause of the fire.

Urban development minister Firhad Hakim, who visited the hospital, echoed him. “The AC got overheated because it was switched on for a long time. We are planning to install a system in which the machines will automatically switch off before they get overheated,” he said.

Chandrima Bhattacharya, the junior health minister (independent charge), also visited the hospital. She said everybody was safe.

The Alex Ward houses the paediatric surgery and paediatric medicine departments. Ghosh said 70 of the children had been admitted to the paediatric surgery department and the remaining 43 to the paediatric medicine department.

Several fires have been reported at SSKM in the recent past. In June, a fire on the third floor of the University College of Medicine at SSKM Hospital had destroyed portions of a seminar room, the anatomy room and the departmental library.

That blaze too was suspected to have started from an air-conditioner that the staff may have forgotten to switch off.