Most of the hospitals and clinics of Dhaka city are operating without necessary fire fighting equipment and trained staff, an official of Fire Service and Civil Defence has said. Wishing anonymity, he also said even the majority of modern hospitals have no modern equipment.
During visits to six hospitals of the city between December 14 and 15, this correspondent has witnessed that each of the hospital lacks modern fire fighting devices. The visits also showed that the hospitals have insufficient or no trained staff and preventive measures for fighting fires.
The hospitals are Dhaka Medical College Hospital, National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopedic Rehabilitation (Nitor), Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), Birdem Hospital, Central Hospital, and LabAid Specialised Hospital.
It is necessary to keep hydrant points, hose reels, and fire extinguishers at every floor of a hospital, Zahurul Amin Miyan, assistant director of warehouse and fire prevention of the Fire Service and Civil Defence, told The Daily Star.
The correspondent, however, found no hydrant point and hose reel at DMCH and Nitor (Pangu hospital) except some fire extinguishers. There were also no trained people who could use the fire equipments.
DMCH Director Brig Gen Shahidul Haque Mallik said the hospital's main building is not under fire risk, as the wall of the building is 20-inch thick and consists of lots of open space. He said the authorities will increase the number of extinguishers in the burn unit and set up fire equipment like hydrant points and smoke detectors in its new under-construction building.
At Nitor, this correspondent witnessed a small fire incident, which occurred just beside the emergency ward, but an hour went by with no initiative to douse the fire which started from a burning cigarette butt at 1:30pm was doused at 2:50pm.
Though it was a small fire, the hospital staff showed utter negligence.
Khondokar Abdul Awal Rizvi, director of Nitor, said it is very important to aware the staff about fire incidents, and the authorities are planning to train them on fire fighting. As there is a lack of budget, the hospital is taking preventive measures as per its capacity, he said.
The recent fire accident in AMRI Hospital in Paschimbanga that cost 92 lives has brought some awareness to the hospital authorities and prompted them to take necessary initiatives.
Brig Gen (Retd) Abu Nayeem Md Shahidullah, director general of Fire Service and Civil Defence, said the fire department is to take initiative to train the staff of different hospitals and clinics on fire fighting, as the hospital staff have a huge lack in training.
"We will start the training programmes this month, as during a recent survey on the hospitals we found that most of the officials and staff of the hospitals and clinics, except the big ones, do no know what to do during a fire incident".
Some 13 small fire incidents occurred in hospitals and clinics in the city in 2011. Of them, the fire fighters had to deal with 10. Only three fire incidents were dealt with at the initiative of the hospital authorities, the DG said. Three persons were hurt in those incidents.
Brig Gen Shahidullah said Fire Service and Civil Defence will train a particular number of staff of a hospital so that they can train other staff. "We will bring all the hospitals and clinics under the training programme gradually", he said.
Assistant Director Zahurul Amin Miyan said the hospitals should set up modern fire equipments like auto sprinkler, smoke detector, and heat resistant door at the points like OT, ICU, CCU and post operative rooms.
Every hospital is also required to keep one or more emergency stairs on the basis of its accommodation capacity and it should set up auto fire alarms, Zahurul said, adding that there should be a door in front of the stair, which will be able to give protection against a two hours' fire. He also said installation of emergency lifts are also necessary especially in modern hospitals.
During a visit to the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, only a few fire extinguishers were found. There were no hydrant points or hose reels. The hospital also lacks trained persons to operate the extinguishers.
At the cabin block of the hospital, which was inaugurated on April 18, 2001, the emergency stair was found locked up.
Brig Gen Md Abdul Majid Bhuiyan of BSMMU said the hospital has a sufficient number of extinguishers at different floors, which will be used by the staff during any fire. He said the authorities conduct training programmes for the staff on fire fighting several times a year.
According to the fire fighters' suggestion, Brig Gen Majid said, the authorities are planning to set up two water reservoirs, one on top of the roof and the other under the ground, to fight fire. He said the hospital will strengthen the training programme further.
At Central Hospital, the correspondent found hose reels and extinguishers at every floor but the emergency exits were blocked. The authorities had been using the space for other purposes like setting up beds, blocking the exits.
LabAid Specialised Hospital
Though there were extinguishers, hydrant points with sufficient hose reels, and emergency exits, no modern fire fighting equipment was found at the private hospital.
Dr AKM Mahbubul Haque, director of the hospital, said the authorities train a particular group every week, who will fight fire. "We have sufficient number of fire extinguishers and hydrant points with hose reels to fight fire properly".
The correspondent found insufficient the number of modern equipment at Birdem hospital.
"We have already submitted proposals to the fire committee of the hospital to bring modern fire fighting equipment", Ismail Hossain, head of security of the hospital, said, adding that the hospital trains its staff on fire fighting every two months.
On December 12, the Fire Service and Civil Defence started a survey on the hospitals of the country. The fire staff have visited over 100 hospitals and clinics till December 19.
The survey was started following a High Court directive. On December 12, 2011, the HC asked the Directorate General of Health Services for a report on fire safety measures at hospitals, clinics, and other health centres across the country by February 28, 2012.