More than 12 hours after the fire that has left at least 19 people dead and over 100 injured, SUM Hospital in Bhubaneswar wears the look of a ghost town. Shards of glass strewn all over the place stand as a stark reminder of the desperate attempts by those trapped inside on the second floor to get out. Empty beds and abandoned, half-burnt equipment are all one gets to see through the glass panes of the second floor, now locked out by the authorities for the inquiry ordered by the government. Unused fire fighting cylinders stick out like a sore thumb reminding onlookers of what could have been.
With authorities of the SUM Hospital in Bhubaneswar yet to come out with any statement on what led to the mishap, anger against the hospital among relatives of those who died or were critically injured is at its peak.
“They are squarely responsible for what happened. Not only did they fail to put adequate fire safety measures in place. They also failed to sound an alarm in time for those trapped inside, leading to loss of crucial time that could have saved at least some of the lives lost,” said the angry relative of a patient who perished in the inferno.
With authorities of the SUM Hospital in Bhubaneswar yet to come out with any statement on what led to the mishap, anger against the hospital among relatives of those who died or were critically injured is at its peak. Firstpost/Biswa Ranjan
The inquiry by the revenue divisional commissioner (RDC) ordered by the chief minister began on Tuesday morning. But no hospital official had been arrested or questioned at the time of writing. “We will see if a case of criminal negligence is made out against the hospital authorities. If there is one, we will initiate appropriate criminal proceedings against the concerned officials,” the chief secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi told members of the media.
Even before the official inquiry began, SUM Hospital authorities have ordered an internal inquiry headed by Amit Banerjee, vice-chancellor of Siksha O Anusandhan (SoA) University, which runs the medical college-cum-hospital, and placed three officials — the fire safety officer, the power supply officer and the hospital manager — under suspension.
Eyewitnesses also said the fire was caused by a welding machine being used for some repair on the glass-panelled second floor that houses the dialysis ward and the intensive care unit (ICU) of the medicine department. They said the fire was first spotted near the door of the dialysis centre. Flames and smoke soon started billowing out of a pipe that burst due to the fire and engulfed the entire corridor in next to no time, making it impossible for patients and their attendants to get out. In desperation, the glass panes were broken and the sick taken out through the holes created in the process. Rescue workers and fire tender officials said a majority of those killed died due to asphyxiation during the process of being shifted out.
With lax monitoring of fire safety measures in hospitals even after repeated warnings in the shape of minor mishaps over the past year, such a mishap was waiting to open. On October 16 last year, a minor boy was killed at the Acharya Harihar Regional Cancer Centre in Cuttack. This was followed by incidents of fire triggered by the same electrical short circuit at Sishu Bhavan, the premier children’s hospital in the state and the SCB Medical College in Cuttack on 29 November, 2015 and 31 May, 2016 respectively.
Although there were no casualties in either of these incidents, they served as a timely reminder to the health department to monitor and tighten fire safety measures in hospitals. But alas, no heed was paid to these warnings leading to the terrible mishap on Monday.