Hospital Fire in India Kills 94
A devastating fire swept through a privately-owned hospital in Calcutta (Kolkata) India, killing at least 94 people. However, it wasn’t the flames that killed most of the people, it was smoke inhalation and the failure to evacuate patients by hospital officials.
Witnesses and patients told reporters that the doctors on duty had fled the hospital, leaving patients stuck in their wards at the mercy of the billowing black smoke.
They described a chaotic scene of underequipped firefighters struggling to rescue patients trapped in a building that had become, in effect, a five-story chimney for a petroleum-fueled fire in the basement.
Firhad Hakim, West Bengal state’s minister of urban development, arrived at the scene at 5 a.m. to find dozens of firefighters standing around, unable to get inside.
‘The smoke was so thick and black that it was not possible to enter into the hospital,’ Mr. Hakim said.
The fire had started in the basement, where the hospital was storing diesel and motor oil, he said. Fueled by these volatile elements, it sent plumes of searing, pitch-black smoke into the upper floors via the elevator ducts, Mr. Hakim said. Patients, many of them bedridden, had no way to escape. The mirrored glass windows did not open.
The facade of the building was made of thick glass, which firefighters struggled to break. Finally, they used a ladder to reach an upper floor, where they were able to break the glass and vent some of the smoke. But by then it was 7:30, and the fire had been pouring smoke into the hospital for almost three hours.
‘Whoever they brought out, most of them were dead,’ Mr. Hakim said.
There were reports that smoke and fire detectors were inoperable, and if the reports are accurate that hospital officials fled without assisting in the evacuation of patients, then all should be liable for homicide charges.
What makes matters worse is that firefighters took as long as they did to arrive on scene. There was no clear way for them to get into the hospital complex, and they apparently lacked equipment necessary to gain entry to help rescue patients. That’s inexcusable as well.
One can only hope that in the wake of such a disaster that Indian officials impose strict new rules on hospitals and push to improve fire response times.