Some of the private COVID-19 hospitals in and around Vijayawada are operating with conditional NOCs, according to fire department officials.

A health worker checking COVID-19 patients in a Covid ward in DelhiImage for representation/PTI
Coronavirus Fire Safety Saturday, May 01, 2021 - 17:39

All hospitals and Covid Care Centres (CCCs) in Andhra Pradesh will have to undergo a fire audit immediately, state Industries Minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy said on May 1. He said that there is a high fire risk at COVID-19 facilities, due to the presence of many oxygen containers and heavy usage of electricity. The decision comes at a time when health department authorities have said that the number of patients admitted in CCCs in the state is increasing gradually. 

Last year, ten people were killed in a fire that broke out at a CCC in Vijayawada’s Swarna Palace Hotel, on August 9, 2020. The CCC was being run by Ramesh Hospitals. A committee constituted to probe the accident had found that the facility had not complied with several norms required to run a CCC in a private accommodation. It was also found that the hotel itself did not have a valid NOC (no objection certificate) from the fire department. 

With CCCs being opened again amid rising COVID-19 cases, fire officers are visiting such centres and insisting that they keep at least portable fire extinguishers if not fixed ones, Krishna District Fire Officer (DFO) M Sreenivas Reddy told TNM. In the case of private hospitals which have received permission from the government to treat COVID-19 patients, the fire department is monitoring through phone calls and Whatsapp if the fire safety equipment is functional, he said. There are around 58 private COVID-19 hospitals in Krishna district, according to Sreenivas Reddy. “Though hospitals have fire safety equipment, the concern is whether they are being maintained properly,” the DFO said, adding that electricians and safety officers are remotely monitoring on a regular basis if the automatic fire detection systems are working. 

Some private hospitals which received permission to treat COVID-19 patients have reportedly sought extension of expired fire NOCs. Stating that there were certain deficiencies in some of these hospitals, like lack of open spaces, the DFO said that such hospitals were being allowed to extend their NOC with some conditions. While government hospitals with shortage of fire extinguishers are being provided equipment from the fire department, private hospitals are being asked to comply with fire safety norms and being trained in tackling fire accidents, he added. 

CCCs, however, do not have such regular monitoring systems in place. Sreenivas Reddy said that so far, very few people have been coming to CCCs, while hospitals on the other hand are fully occupied. On April 29, Principal Secretary (Health), Anil Kumar Singhal had said that CCCs in the state were slowly being filled up, adding that the number of admissions was expected to go up in the coming days. “At present, there are 7,749 people in CCCs in the state. By Monday or Tuesday, the number can go up to 15,000, and can help ease the load on hospital beds,” he said. Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has also asked officials to arrange 1000 oxygen beds and 2000 non-oxygen beds in CCCs in every district. 

In case of CCCs, the Krishna DFO said that as and when the district administration informs about a centre being opened up, fire officers visit and suggest fire safety measures. “We are advising the staff members on operating the extinguishers, and informing the fire department. We are doing our level best,” he said.  

In most cases, where the CCCs are established in a school building or community hall, the building only has an NOC for its own function, and not for a medical establishment, where patients would be unable to escape a fire on their own, the DFO said. 

“CCCs are for COVID-19 patients without serious complications who are still physically fit, so we don’t expect there will be a problem. Right now, we are concentrating on keeping fire safety equipment in working condition,” he said. 

In the early hours of May 1, at least 18 COVID-19 patients died after a fire broke out at a hospital in Gujarat's Bharuch. On April 23, 15 COVID-19 patients died after a fire broke out at a private hospital in Maharashtra’s Palghar district. In March, a fire broke out in Mumbai's Dreams Mall, killing nine patients in a COVID-19 hospital in the building, who were on ventilator support. 

Read: Carry out fire safety audit of dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, SC directs all states

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