It was the presence of mind of a nurse that saved the lives of 26 new born babies at the district government hospital in Kalaburagi, Karnataka, when a short circuit triggered a fire last week. The nurse removed the infants from the neonatal care unit as soon as he saw smoke in the ward’s airconditioner. What could have been a disaster ended with no damage. But the incident should serve as a wake-up call for the government to review and upgrade fire safety measures in all its hospitals.
As a check by Express revealed, many of Karnataka’s government hospitals are not equipped to deal with even minor fire accidents. The 500-bed hospital in Kalaburagi where the latest incident took place has just one electrician. In Mangaluru, the structure of Wenlock District Hospital is so old that it cannot support any modern fire safety equipment. The busy facility has to make do with some rudimentary fire-fighting gear. At the Karwar district hospital none of the wards, intensive care units and corridors have a fire extinguisher. In Mysuru, there’s just one fire extinguisher at one of the two main government-run hospitals.
With this being the situation, fire tragedies are waiting to happen. The hot summer and erratic power supply only add to the problem. Government hospitals are teeming with patients and their families, and any accident can prove disastrous. The government insists on private buildings, including malls and hospitals, putting in place fire safety measures. The buildings can even be sealed if they don’t conform to the norms. Why not apply the same yardstick to government hospitals frequented by poor patients? Do we need to wait till a disaster before the government gets into action? To begin with, the government must conduct a fire safety audit at all hospitals, including private ones. It should not lose any time in upgrading infrastructure wherever required. Hospitals must be made to hold fire safety drills at frequent intervals by coordinating with fire services departments. No chance can be taken when any lapse could cost precious lives. The Kalaburagi fire accident was a minor one, but the government should not take it lightly.