According to the official, the lack of sprinklers made the task of dousing the flames doubly difficult for the firefighting team. “We were at first unable to target the origin of the fire because smoke was billowing out continuously. We had to bore holes on the ceiling of the ground floor to see the flames and spray water.”
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had expressed anger and anguish at the alleged callousness of the trading community after the blaze in Bagree Market, saying that “hooliganism” had compromised the safety of the wholesale hub.
“So much of inflammables stocked (in the shops at Bagree Market). Even the toilet had been rented out. People have to understand: if somebody is doing business, he has to be conscious of (what is good for) the area,” Mamata said. “Why should it (business) be taken to such a level that the fire brigade’s (entry) is blocked?” she told reporters while visiting Frankfurt to market Bengal as an investment destination.
The fire services directorate lodged a police complaint against the owners of Bagree Market on September 18, two days after the fire broke out.
At Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, not having smoke detectors and sprinklers doubled the fire risk because the pharmacy storeroom stocked inflammable items. “Bandage and cotton are highly inflammable. Some medicines release toxic fumes when they burn,” the fire services official said.
The medical college claimed it was the public works department (PWD)’s responsibility to implement safety recommendations and intimate the fire services directorate about it. “The PWD deals with these matters. Their officials know about it,” said a senior official.
The PWD said obtaining a safety certificate from the fire services directorate was not part of its brief. “We are only responsible for the maintenance of the buildings. The medical college and hospital is the owner of the premises and so has to procure the NOC,” an official of the department said.
In the Bagree Market fire case, the police obtained an arrest warrant against two co-directors of Bagree Estates Pvt Ltd, based on a complaint by the fire services directorate.
No complaint had been lodged against the medical college authorities till late on Wednesday.
Fires have been reported at several government hospitals over the past few years, including SSKM and Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital.
Patients being evacuated from MCH Building Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Patients being evacuated from Calcutta Medical College and Hospital after a fire broke out Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
The portable extinguishers in the pharmacy and the rest of the building were inadequate for a hospital with hundreds of critically ill patients. The floor above the pharmacy houses the general medicine, cardiology and haematology wards, none of which has an auto suppression system.
Several patients and their attendants said they didn’t hear any alarm go off even after smoke filled their floor and the ones above them. Patients who could move on their own scurried down the stairs. Many were lifted and carried by family members to safety.
Fire services officials said the layout of the pharmacy storeroom at MCH Building was a hindrance to firefighting. There are compartments inside the storeroom that made it difficult for firefighters to enter the place on Wednesday, they pointed out.
The adjacent Ezra Building, to which some of the evacuated patients were shifted, is also bereft of firefighting equipment except some extinguishers along the corridors.
“The medical college authorities had submitted all documents (regarding safety measures) to the fire services directorate but there was no inspection. The hospital authorities also sat on it for two years,” an official of the health department said.
Patients being evacuated from MCH Building after a fire broke out at the pharmacy Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
The fire at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital on Wednesday that forced the evacuation of around 250 patients, some on their own with tubes attached, showed how the government fails to practise the safety protocol it preaches.
The ground-floor pharmacy storeroom where the fire started has apparently been operating without the mandatory fire safety certificate from the directorate of fire services. Health department officials said the hospital had applied for the certificate in 2016.
As spirals of smoke rose from the seat of the fire to the first, second and third floors of the four-storey building, the absence of an alarm mechanism in the pharmacy storeroom meant that no evacuation alert was triggered.
An official said the fire services directorate had twice recommended an “auto suppression system” — the set-up typically includes smoke detectors, alarms and sprinklers — for the state-run hospital.