Unprepared for emergencies: A fire evokes horrors of the past

Panic struck Services Hospital when a small blaze erupted in a pile of rubbish


Ali Ousat October 17, 2016
Panic struck Services Hospital when a small blaze erupted in a pile of rubbish. PHOTO: ONLINE

LAHORE: October 15, 9pm: a routine, busy hour at the Services Hospital of Lahore. “Fire,” shouts someone and all hell breaks loose. The bustling hospital scene turns into a stampede as panic-stricken people start running helter-skelter.

The resulting chaos left patients unattended for at least two hours. After a while, the ‘inferno’ turned out to be a small blaze with only a pile of rubbish catching fire outside the emergency ward.

Not a single person was able to deal with the situation. The fire alarm kept on ringing, requiring a Rescue 1122 team to reach the hospital and put out the fire. The task took them only 15 minutes, which was ironic given the intensity of the panic that had gripped the facility.

However, the panic arose from a similar incident from a few years ago when four children lost their lives in a blaze at the hospital’s paediatric ward in June 2012.

Hollow promises

At that time, the health department had announced installing fire extinguishers at all significant spots of the hospital. The promises seem hollow, considering necessary arrangements to deal with such a situation are still not in place.

“The small fire exposed the sorry state of affairs at government hospitals. Even the staffers were unable to put it out,” says Dr Farhan Gohar, who works at Services Hospital. He added the government did install some extinguishers, but all went out of order soon.

But visits to different hospitals show such mismanagement is prevalent at much larger health facilities like Mayo Hospital, Lahore General Hospital, Jinnah Hospital and Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC).

“A fire hose does not cost much, but they are all afraid to install it. I don’t know why,” said a medical officer of PIC, Dr Aftab Ashraf.

Recommendations

There are a few fire extinguishers at Mayo Hospital, but all of them are out of order, says Young Doctors Association (YDA) General Secretary Dr Salman Kazmi.

He called for giving fire-fighting equipment to every 10-bed ward along with training on fire-fighting operations. Proper checking must be carried out at all government and private hospitals, nurseries, emergencies, medical and surgical intensive care units, psychiatric and other units.

“We strongly plead for provision of fire extinguishers at all hospitals that too in working condition. Every staffer should know how to operate the main control valve,” Salman said.

Another side

While talking to The Express Tribune, Health Department spokesperson Akhlaq Ali Khan said all hospitals have already been allocated hefty amounts for development work annually and most of hospitals had already installed fire extinguishers in their premises.

“However, it is not possible for the hospital staff to be able to douse the fire in a very professional manner,” he said. “Our fire brigade department and Rescue 1122 are highly professional and they are always available when called for duty.”

He added it was not possible for the health department to install fire tenders at the hospitals. “Fire extinguishers are already installed at every important location of all the government hospitals. The paramedical staff have been trained as well to douse small fires,” he claimed.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2016.

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