In an assessment carried out across 484 government hospitals and other medical facilities in Maharashtra after a fire in Bhandara district general hospital killed 10 newborns, officials have found that except for a small handful, none of these facilities possess a no objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department.
More than 80 per cent had never been through a fire safety audit and less than half had conducted a mock fire drill in the past.
In the last five years, Maharashtra has recorded 17 fire mishaps in government hospitals across 11 districts. This includes the latest incident in the sick newborn care unit of the Bhandara hospital on January 9, when 10 newborns – the oldest just a month old – died due to burn injuries and smoke inhalation.
The ongoing assessment, from which data for 484 rural hospitals, primary health centres (PHCs), district and sub-district hospitals from 34 of the 36 districts is available at present, has revealed a bypassing of fire safety norms by most and the absence
of coordination between public health department, public works department (PWD), Nagar Parishads and municipal corporations in ensuring that the norms are complied with.
Only 88 facilities had conducted a fire safety audit, and only a bare 45 have an NOC from the fire department. A mock fire drill has been carried out at 218 at least once.
N Ramaswamy, Director of National Health Mission, said, “Several hospitals are decades old and were handed over by the PWD to us without obtaining NOC for fire safety. Soon, we will issue a circular to all districts to ensure that a hospital starts functioning only after required permissions are in place. A contract will be drawn up with PWD, in which we will clearly mention who is responsible for fire audit, NOC and other permissions.”
In Pune, of the 26 government hospitals assessed, only four have conducted a fire safety audit, and none have an NOC from the fire department. In Thane, of the 13 hospitals, seven have carried out a fire audit and two have an NOC. Data from Mumbai is not available.
Some districts have shown a very poor fire safety protocol for all their government hospitals. Nandurbar, Dhule, Satara, Jalgaon and Sindhudurg have neither carried out a single fire audit nor do they possess an NOC from the fire department for any of their hospitals assessed till now.
In Nandurbar, assessment was sought from 15 PHCs and hospitals, nine hospitals in Dhule, 24 each in Satara and Jalgaon and 11 in Sindhudurg.
In Nandurbar, District Health Officer (DHO) Dr Nitin Borke said while PHCs had fire extinguishers, no training has been imparted to the staff on fire fighting. “After the fire incident in Bhandara, I issued a letter to all PHCs to conduct fire audits,” he added. The letter was issued on January 11, two days after the Bhandara hospital mishap.
In Chandrapur, DHO Dr Raj Gehlot conducted a mock drill on January 11 to look at preparedness in PHCs. “We have also asked for audit on requirement for fire safety equipment. Soon, a proposal will be submitted for approval,” Gehlot said.
In Dhule, where none of the nine hospitals have undergone a fire audit and do not have fire NOC, civil surgeon Manik Sangale said, “We have now started the process of audit and to apply for NOC. These are all very old buildings, and we could only fit extinguishers.”
While data from 484 hospitals showed that 5,137 fire extinguishers were procured, there was no data on how many are functional or how many hospitals held training exercises for its staffers.
“We have no guidelines on how regularly a fire audit must be undertaken. We are now proposing that a fire audit or at least mock drill should be a regular exercise,”