A man who carried his grandfather out of the building in his arms said he didn’t see any trolley or wheelchair. The cleaners at the hospital and the security personnel helped.
Critical patients were shifted to other buildings from the driveway as early as possible. “We shifted the patients to the Emergency Building, Ezra Building and the Eden Building,” said Indranil Biswas, the medical superintendent and vice-principal of the hospital.
Several patients began returning to the MCH Building around 3pm after sitting outside for hours.
Bengal health department sources said the fire-safety certificate of the hospital on College Street had not been renewed this year as the pharmacy and some buildings had not installed firefighting equipment.
A fire brigade official said the pharmacy did not have water sprinklers, smoke detectors and a fire alarm. He said the fire brigade had written twice to the hospital asking the authorities to install an auto-suppression system, but little had been done.
The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained. The nature of materials stocked at the pharmacy, such as cotton and bandage along with medicines, kept the fire alive for long. Two oxygen cylinders exploded because of the heat.
Some fire services officials said the blaze could have started from an electric wire.
Patient after patient was being carried out — one in a bloodstained mattress doubling as an emergency draw-sheet, another in a green plastic sheet, the third in a purple sheet. Some were being stretchered out, three or two to a trolley.
Then many of the nearly 250 patients brought out were made to lie down on the asphalted driveway that looked like any road in Calcutta, some gathering little other than bed sheets around them to cover themselves, admission number plastered on their foreheads, and gasping for breath.
There was little else one of Bengal’s premier medical colleges that still draws some of the brightest MBBS students in the state could do when a fire broke out in a pharmacy on Wednesday morning.
By all accounts, the operation at the state-run Calcutta Medical College and Hospital was “successful”. No death directly linked to the fire had been officially reported till Wednesday night.
My dada (73-year-old Subhankar) lifted me and started running towards the staircase. A stench of something burning hit us.... My brother brought me till the stairs and I decided to climb down, leaning on his shoulder. He was desperately looking for help but no hospital employee was around
Sashanka Dey, 60, ICU cardiac patient
The presence of mind shown by the patients, their relatives and the hospital staff did help avert what could have been a disaster.
But the fire also shed light on inadequacies and lack of a well-oiled rapid-response system in a state where over 90 people were killed in a fire at the private-run AMRI Hospitals, Dhakuria, nearly seven years ago.
Although Wednesday’s fire started in the ground-floor pharmacy of the MCH Building at 7.35am and remained largely confined there, thick smoke engulfed the three floors above and the blaze took close to five hours to be tamed.
The MCH Building houses critical departments such as cardiology, which has an intensive care unit, haematology and general medicine. The fire was declared doused at 12.45pm, by when medicines and medical equipment worth Rs 5 crore had been gutted, a pharmacy employee said, adding that a month’s stock of drugs had been destroyed.
In the absence of stretchers and wheelchairs, relatives of panic-stricken patients, helped by hospital staff, carried them in their arms down the stairs, cradling saline bottles.