Fire safety a low priority in Hyderabad’s hospitals? 10 centres face action for violating norms

Some of the worst violations include inoperative fire alarms and sprinkler systems not having water supply.
Fire safety a low priority in Hyderabad’s hospitals? 10 centres face action for violating norms
Fire safety a low priority in Hyderabad’s hospitals? 10 centres face action for violating norms
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With the recent fire at the Victoria General Hospital in Visakhapatnam, all eyes have turned to fire safety violations by prominent hospitals. Although the fire on Friday was doused without claiming any casualties, reports indicate that it was a close shave for nine infants in the children’s ward where the fire started.

It has also emerged that the hospital did not have a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the fire department, and its fire-prevention procedures had not been recently updated. According to The New Indian Express, this is the dismal reality in hospitals across Vishakapatnam, with just 25 out of 146 hospitals having an NOC.

And the situation does not improve in neighbouring Telangana’s capital city of Hyderabad, which is the medical hub of the region. According to fire officials, only a small percentage of hospitals in Hyderabad are inspected and supervised by the fire department. “There are more than 500 hospitals in Hyderabad, of which only 68 hospitals have been given an NOC by the department,” said Papaiah, the Regional Fire Officer.

At the 68 hospitals that were given an NOC, the fire department has been conducting surprise inspections and weekly training programs, having inspected 46 in the state since May last year.  

Alarmingly, as many as ten hospitals in Telangana, including seven in Hyderabad, are facing prosecution orders after failing to meet fire safety standards during these random inspections. These are Pabba Super Specialty Heart Care Centre in Karimnagar, Paramitha Children's Hospital in Maheshwaram, Matrix Hospital in Ranga Reddy, Srikara Hospital in Secunderabad, and Indo US Hospital Trust, Indo-America Cancer Hospital, Yashoda Cancer Hospital, Apollo Life Science Centre and the ESI Corporation Building’s Academic Block and Hospital Block in Hyderabad.

“They have misused the open space in the basement by putting up canteens and laundry rooms. Some of them were even using the basement for their physiotherapy or pathology centres. But that space should be used only as a parking area, and as an assembly point and escape route in case of fire,” said Rajiv Ratan, Director General of Telangana State Disaster Response and Fire Services Department.

“Most of them have also added extra floors without permission, and there are limited numbers of fire extinguishers on each floor. They have made escaping the building during fires very difficult,” he added.

Another grievous and dangerous violation by some hospitals is in keeping switched off the pumps supplying water to the sprinkler system.

“The water for the sprinklers comes through the water pumps, and they are supposed to be kept on at all times. But to save electricity costs, hospitals keep the pump switched off, without thinking about the consequences,” added Rajiv.

In two cases, neither the hospital’s fire alarm system nor the sprinkler functioned.

While the fire safety systems of some major hospitals are monitored by the fire department, many hospitals escape monitoring as building codes do not require buildings of height less than 15m to obtain clearances under the Telangana Fire Service Act, 1999.

“According to fire safety norms, buildings which are less than 15 metres in height, do not come under the fire safety rules. So, it is optional for them to obtain clearances. However, this doesn’t mean that patients are safe there. Technically all hospitals should follow the safety rules,” explained Rajiv.

This rule has meant that many large and small hospitals in Hyderabad are not mandatorily regulated by the fire department.

“It is difficult to regulate those hospitals, as it is not mandatory for them to submit to inspections. However, recently, the Health Department has made a proposal with a budget of Rs 13 crore for adding fire safety equipment in all government hospitals,” the Director General said.

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