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Explained: Behind frequent hospital fires in India
Syllabus– GS2: Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies
Syllabus –GS 2: Social Issues and Social Justice
Syllabus –GS 2: India’s foreign policy
Why in News?
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on Tuesday gave permission to Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) to conduct trials for the use and application of 5G technology.
Syllabus– GS 3: Science and Technology
What is 5G technology and how is it different?
Significance of 5G for India: –
What is the global progress on 5G?
Way Forward: –
Critically evaluate the applications of 5g technology in India. Discuss its merits and demerits.
Why in News?
As many as 93 people, most of them Covid-19 patients, died in 24 incidents of fire in hospitals in India since last August
Syllabus– GS2: Issues related to Health & Public Policies.
Hospital fires in India:
Eleven of the 24 fires were major fires and 13 were minor ones. More than half these fires occurred in March and April, when rising Covid-19 cases snowballed into a second wave. Of 59 deaths from hospital fires in the last two months, 33 deaths were reported from Maharashtra in six fire incidents and Gujarat (21) in three fire incidents.
Counting from August, 43 deaths in Maharashtra and 35 in Gujarat have been reported till date, the latest being in Bharuch where 16 patients and two nurses died.
What fire safety compliance is expected in public buildings, including hospitals?
At the centre of all standard-setting is the National Building Code of India. Part 4 of the Code deals with Fire and Life Safety. The document provides specifications and guidelines for design and materials that reduce the threat of destructive fires. Under the Code, all existing and new buildings are classified by nature of use, such as residential, educational, institutional, assembly (like cinemas and auditoria), business, mercantile, industrial, storage and hazardous.
The Union Home Ministry’s Directorate-General for Fire Services, Civil Defence & Home Guards says on its website that the National Building Code (NBC), published by the Bureau of Indian Standards, is a “recommendatory document”, and States have been asked to incorporate it into their local building bylaws, making the recommendations a “mandatory requirement”. Evidently, fire safety rules exist in every State, but the provisions of the Code are ignored in practice, and even mandatory certifications do not reflect compliance.
Fire experts blame an “overstressed” hospital system unable to bear the rising patient load for the frequent fire incidents.
“Hospitals are increasing beds, equipment and staff to admit more Covid patients, but it is not possible to immediately expand the electrical wiring system. Medical equipment or wires carrying current beyond their capacity can overheat. That is what is happening in many hospitals. We don’t need just a fire audit, we also need an electrical audit
In Gujarat, fire officials have noted that ICUs lack cross-ventilation – this is the case with all ICUs as they are sealed for the purpose of keeping them sterile. In addition, due to Covid, there has been an increase of inflammable material in Hospitals – sanitiser spills and vapour, higher oxygen content in the air, and PPE kits, which are made of synthetic material . A fire official said “highly inflammable material such as these spread fire quickly” and leave very little time for a response.
In makeshift hospitals, jumbo centres for Covid patients present their own challenges. They are made of highly inflammable materials, and sprinklers or fire alarms are difficult to install. Only fire extinguishers can be provided. Suresh Kakani, Additional Municipal Commissioner, said that to prevent a massive mishap, they have placed a fire engine next to the Mulund, Dahisar and BKC jumbo centres to reduce the response time to seconds.
No compliance with the safety Code: –
However, reports in the wake of recent fire accidents indicate that the authorities have been unable to keep up with inspection requirements for thousands of buildings. A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report for the period 2010 to 2015 noted that in Maharashtra, after a “joint physical inspection by audit of 53 government buildings/hospitals/educational institutions/commercial establishments in eight selected MCs [municipal corporations] revealed that only fire extinguishers were installed in 11 of 53 buildings and the remaining 42 buildings were not equipped with any of the fire-fighting installations”. Fire department professionals had earlier demanded third-party audits by licensed professionals.
The most common cause of fire accidents is electrical short circuit. Hospitals need to prioritize periodic testing of firefighting systems and regular training of staff on their use. Judicious placement of electrical equipment combined with oxygen monitoring devices in intensive care areas is recommended. Storage of flammable materials and placement of central gas supply points should be away from the vicinity of patient care areas and always in conjunction with robust fire detection and control methods. Hospitals should adhere to their planned capacity.
A back-up AC is necessary, which is absent in small hospitals, he said. In a fire in Vijay Vallabh Hospital in Virar outside Mumbai, which killed 15, and in Ayush Hospital, Surat, which killed three, the fire began from the AC. In both cases, the AC had functioned for 24 hours. Uchake said instead of a cassette or window AC, air handling units (AHU) must be installed in ICUs to circulate air as they are better workhorses.
Air handling units take air from the atmosphere, “recondition” it — cooling or heating as required — and circulate it within a building or a section of the building through ducts.
The cross-ventilation in ICUs to allow fumes an outlet, which would mean unsealing a part of it.
Way forward: –
In December last year, the Supreme Court directed all States to carry out fire safety audits of dedicated COVID-19 hospitals. It has become evident that State forces lack the manpower to inspect and ensure compliance with safety codes, including the NBC, where it is mandatory. One option is to make heavy fire liability insurance compulsory for all public buildings, which would offer protection to occupants and visitors and bring about external inspection of safety.
Explain how an uncontrolled fire is dangerous especially in the healthcare establishments as they frequently cater to the sick who often require assistance.