| The damaged ICU at KM Memorial Hospital in Bokaro on Saturday. Picture by Pankaj Singh
Bokaro, Sept. 8: Three critical patients, including an 80-year-old woman, died of suffocation after a fire broke out at the ICU of a well-known private hospital last night as fire-fighters struggled for over an hour to battle the blaze in a chilling throwback to last year’s Amri Hospitals fire in Calcutta.
Initial reports said the fire was caused by a short-circuit around 8 pm. It was followed by a spark leading to a blaze that spread quickly on the second floor of the four-storey K.M. Memorial Hospital that was clearly ill-equipped to handle such emergencies.
There were 72 patients in the hospital — 14 in the ICU — at the time of the blaze that occurred 24 hours after incessant rains had flooded the hospital’s ground floor which houses general wards, X-ray units and doctors’ chambers. It was unclear whether the flooding had caused the short-circuit.
Fire-fighters reached the spot within 10 minutes, but found it difficult to access the second floor. Eyewitnesses said hospital staff and relatives of patients managed to rescue 11 from the ICU, some carried on shoulders and then brought down the narrow stairs.
But Devashree (80), suffering from acute cardiac problems, Jethu Manjhi (52), who was being treated for lung congestion, and Ashok Kumar Gupta (55), suffering from cerebral malaria, died of suffocation as the ICU was filled with smoke in no time.
The 100-bed hospital, owned by the family of Giridih MP Ravindra Pandey, is a popular health hub in Chas, about 5km from Bokaro. About 100 metres off NH-23 that connects Bokaro with Dhanbad, it is located in a congested shopping area of the trade town and is sandwiched between several double-storied buildings.
It has a 35 feet-wide entrance, but the interiors are cramped. The ICU comprises three halls measuring 600sqft, 900sqft and 1,000sqft, each separated by sliding glass panes. At the time of the fire these were shut.
Fire-fighters, who found it difficult to tackle the smoke inside the ICU, had to ultimately break open several second floor windows from outside to gain entry. But, by then the three had died.
According to chief fire officer of Bokaro Ganga Khalko, at first the lone fire engine at his disposal was pressed into service. Soon, Bokaro Steel sent across two more. The blaze was tamed after an hour and 10 minutes.
“Initially, we did not know what to do as we tried for over 30 minutes to enter the ICU but could not because of the thick cloud of smoke. The only way was to break open the second floor windows from the outside which we ultimately did,” he said, adding that one fireman lost consciousness while trying to get into the ICU.
Khalko said the hospital needed to take many more precautions and that its approach road was congested, a sentiment shared by patients relatives. Arun Kumar Sao blamed the hospital for the death of his brother-in-law, Gupta, a resident of Bagodar in Giridih.
“There was mismanagement all around. Fire extinguishers in the hospital are like showpieces that are hung on walls. But no one knows how to use them,” he claimed, adding that not one of those was used during the crisis.
S.K. Mahto, relative of another patient, alleged that hospital staff and nurses were busy trying save equipment rather than help those in need.
Bokaro deputy commissioner Sunil Kumar has asked Chas SDO Sanjay Singh, DSP B. Kullu and chief fire officer Khalko to conduct an inquiry and submit a report within three days.
He said it was evident that the hospital did not have a fire drill in place. But, he would wait for the probe report before taking any action.
Hospital director Vikas Pandey denied they lacked fire-fighting measures. He claimed the ICU was “ventilated” from three sides. “Despite our best efforts three patients could not be saved. We have suffered losses to the tune of crores due to the fire,” said the son of the Giridih MP.
The hospital is left with 58 patients. The ICU, he hoped, would start functioning from Monday.