Seven newborns have died even before they embarked on the journey called life. The tragedy, which has left parents and families devastated, occurred at a government-run hospital in Lahore, where a fire broke out after an air-conditioner installed in the nursery short-circuited. Oxygen panels installed right below the cooling unit then burst into flames. Apart from the seven infants who died, 16 suffered injuries of various kinds.
This is not where the true tragedy starts. The fact is that there were fire extinguishers installed in and near the ward. They could have been used to douse the flames to save lives — except that no one on the staff knew how to operate them. Such laxity in the most basic safety procedures is simply unforgivable.
The extinguishers are not just meant for cosmetic effect. It is essential that persons on the premises know how to use them and everyone working at one of the largest hospitals in the city receive training in this regard over the course of time. The fact that this did not happen has left us with seven deaths that could have been avoided. According to reports, six of the babies died instantly; the seventh sometime later, as a result of smoke inhalation.
The problem with this highly non-serious attitude towards fire prevention exists everywhere. We see rusted extinguishers installed in buildings and emptied buckets, which once contained sand lying elsewhere.
This is true not only for private plazas and offices but also for government buildings. This situation is an unacceptable one. Far better safety measures are required, especially at hospitals, where the lives of helpless people are at stake. The chief minister has visited the ward and we can expect some disciplinary action. That is the usual modus operandi. But what we need is a strategy to make fire safety a compulsory measure at all sites and government institutions. The enforcement of rules to regulate these steps must be made a compulsory requirement.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2012.
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