11 killed in fire at Sunrise Hospital COVID centre inside mall in Mumbai, India
A major fire broke out late on Thursday night, 25 March 2021, at a mall in Mumbai that houses a COVID-19 hospital on its third floor, killing 11. There were 16 ICU patients admitted in hospital and one patient was wheeled out on an ICU bed till the terrace. The fire started on first floor of the mall on Thursday night and soon spread to the third floor, which houses the hospital. Officials from the Mumbai Fire Brigade (MFB) said the fire fighting system, including sprinklers, were not functioning. A notice for non-compliance of fire safety norms was issued to the mall in November 2020, they added. Deputy Chief Fire Officer Rajendra Choudhari said the hospital had 78 patients; 11 died.
CCTV footage of the fire at Dreams Mall fire shows that smoke first entered through the rear end of the hospital at 23h10, where private VIP suites are located. The ICU, in which the majority of the patients who died were admitted, was only 25 metres from the point from which the smoke bellowed into the hospital.
The smoke entered through a window separating a corridor in the hospital from the mall, hospital officials said. With no outlet for the smoke due to the mall’s glass facade, smoke from the fire on the first floor rose up to the third floor, from where it entered the hospital’s ventilation ducts. In the next five to 10 minutes, the smoke had spread through the entire third floor where the hospital is located. The hospital is spread over one lakh square metres, officials said.
The hospital had 35 staffers on duty at time of incident. The maintenance staff began searching for the source of smoke in the hospital and the nursing staff began the evacuation process, said CEO Dr Hafeez Rehman. The entire mall, at that point, was deserted.
Hospital officials said ventilators continued to work on battery backup despite a power cut shortly before midnight. “But the smoke was so dense, it eventually made its way into the patients’ oxygen tube,” said Rehman. He added that the last fire drill was undertaken a week ago in the hospital.
“The staff did the best they could in the situation. They brought everyone out on the terrace. These were also COVID-19 patients and there is a natural apprehension about touching them,” said a senior fire official, who is part of the BMC probe.
Kaushal Chakravarthy, who was admitted in a regular ward along with his parents, said the staff in the hospital was new and seemed confused about whether to use the emergency staircase. “We all rushed to the terrace because that seemed the safest. It was only when the Fire Brigade arrived and said it was safe to use the staircase did we proceed towards it,” he said.
At least 25 fire brigade officers and men, who had close contact with Covid-19 patients while rescuing them from Sunrise Hospital on the intervening night of March 25 and 26, are now isolating and resting after the nightlong heroic act. The fire department is also monitoring them to see if they develop any symptoms. Some of them operated the turntable ladder attached to BKC fire station and some operated the aerial ladder platform.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Rajendra Choudhari said, “I had COVID and have got two doses of the vaccine. But when I went in the ICU, my first instinct was that we had to save people. Some of us have taken one shot of vaccine and some two. But I left things to destiny. One can get COVID sitting at home, too. Our prime task was to save people. The men have done an exemplary job.’’
Additional commissioner Suresh Kakani said, “We have told these personnel to self-isolate. We have a medical centre at Byculla for COVID-affected fire brigade workers.’’
Divisional fire officer SD Sawant, who was one of the first senior officers to reach the ICU, said, “We were coming in direct contact with the COVID-affected people. I was without any PPE and had just an ordinary mask.’’ One of the firemen asked this correspondent to keep a distance. “I was exposed to COVID patients for a long time. I have not taken a vaccine as yet. But god will protect me,” he said. Vinayak Mainkar, assistant divisional fire officer, who was on the ladder, said, “Some relatives were attempting to climb the stairs but our men stopped them. Since the fire call happened in the night, we had no chance to get PPEs. ’’ Mainkar and his men also lifted all those who had died as power had gone off in the ICU.
A probe under Deputy Municipal Commissioner P Rahangdale will look into whether there was a delay in the response to the fire, whether the hospital and attached mall had any lapses in the fire safety system, how the fire started and who was responsible.
Hospital authorities maintained that they had a NOC from the fire department in place and their fire fighting systems were operational.
Rahangdale said they will be reassessing all fire equipment and permissions granted to the hospital. A team from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation also visited the hospital on Saturday morning.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who visited the spot, ordered an enquiry into the incident, announced ₹5 lakh compensation to the family of the deceased and asked for their forgiveness.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has ordered a fire audit of all the COVID-19 hospitals and health centres in the wake of the incident and Mumbai’s mayor Kishori Pednekar has ordered an additional inquiry into how a COVID hospital was allowed to run inside a mall.
Sources: Indian Fire Service, Indian Express