CHENNAI: The State government on Thursday ordered a fire safety audit in all government hospitals, a day after a major fire broke out at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai. Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan, after inspecting the accident site, told reporters that District Collectors have been instructed to conduct the audit and the report will be submitted to the Chief Secretary within a month.
Officials said that the fire has caused structural damage to the Bradfield Surgical Block and the loss is being asessed. The alleged fire safety violations at the block were first highlighted in a 2019 report by Jawaharlal Shanmugam, a member of the State-level expert committee on hospital fire safety. The report had pointed out that on the ground floor, the surgical theatre was converted into a surgical store stocking oxygen cylinders and other items. A kitchen is also located nearby. The report questioned the location of a kitchen near the store.
An official from the Department of Fire and Rescue Services told TNIE that in many hospitals in Chennai, fire fighting systems like hose reel, yard hydrants, sprinklers, and fire alarm systems are either missing or not maintained properly. Also, false ceiling materials were made of highly inflammable articles like thermocol, light wood, wood powder mixed boards, etc.
‘Officials alerted to prevent fires’
The State-level expert committee, which was constituted following the Madras High Court directives, had submitted its 100-page report with various recommendations in March 2020. The report , which is not in the public domain, had documented violations and shortcomings in hospitals. The matter was last heard by a HC bench comprising Justices MM Sundresh and Krishnan Ramasamy on March 13, 2020. Radhakrishnan, who is also the chairperson of the committee, told TNIE,
“The government had released over Rs 110 cr for improving fire safety measures in hospitals after the committee found certain shortcomings. The block that caught fire will be demolished, and a new building will be constructed at Rs 65 crore.”
According to a staff at the Stanley Hospital, evacuation would be very difficult when a fire breaks out, as the buildings are cramped with no setback area. Speaking on fire safety measures taken by the government, Radhakrishnan told reporters that ramps and other fire safety arrangements were made in 157 medical institutions functioning under the Directorate of Medical Services and in 95 institutions under the Directorate of Medical Education hospitals.
He said the existing guidelines already mandate separate storage of combustible materials and ramps. All these aspects will be audited again, the health secretary said. H e said although doctors, nurses, and other staff saved the patients from Wednesday’s fire accident, it should be considered a close shave and there should be zero tolerance for violation of fire safety norms.
He added a detailed inquiry will be conducted on the accident. All the patients, who were at the block during the incident, have been shifted either to the tower-111 block of the RGGGH or the Government Omandurar Medical College Hospital. Radhakrishnan said all district officials have been asked to stay alert to prevent such fire accidents, especially during the summer.