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Fire prevention up in flames

A place of healing turned into a place of hell yesterday as a fire at the private AMRI hospital in Kolkata consumed more than 80 lives. Unfortunately, we have not stopped counting yet. Even as you read this, a predictable blame game has started amongst authorities on the cause of the fire and why so many people were unable to escape it.

While reports continue to pour in, it is said that the fire started in the basement of the hospital. A witness writes that it was horrific and tragic to see patients, most of them too weak to walk clutching at curtains and bedsheets in order to escape.

The shocker should send warning bells tolling loudly in Mumbai's many hospitals both private and public. Do Mumbai's hospitals have clearly demarcated exit routes in case of a fire? Is the staff trained about how to react in case there is a blaze on the premises?

The hospital authorities need to run fire drills for their staff to familiarise them with the procedures. There has to be fire-fighting equipment (in working condition) in the corridors of these hospitals, many of which are labyrinthine. Most importantly, of course, is the fact that in case of a deadly fire like the one yesterday, the hospital has a huge onus as most patients are immobile.

How would they move in case of an emergency? Who would move them? Would they be wheeled out on stretchers? Are there special routes for them? These issues have not been addressed in most hospitals. Like it happens so often,  we are content to react to a disaster, rather than be prepared to prevent it.

A fire may happen only once in a lifetime or may not happen at all but there is nothing like preparation for the worst-case scenario. The AMRI tragedy should spur hospitals to take a  serious look at preparedness to combat similar situations.

More than look, they need to act - now.

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