Two other ICU patients who were rescued are serious, doctor said. The tragedy came just two days after 22 Covid patients died in a Nashik hospital after an oxygen tank leak.
The management of the Virar hospital, doctors and staff were booked by the Arnala coastal police on Friday evening for culpable homicide not amounting to murder under the non-bailable Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code. Other IPC sections applied are 337, 338 (causing hurt by act so rash or negligent as to endanger life) and 34 (common intention), DCP of Mira-Bhayander Vasai -Virar zone 2 Sanjay Patil said. No arrests had been made till the time of going to press.
Seventy other Covid patients on the hospital’s first, third and fourth floors rushed out of the building, some helped by the hospital staff. The patients alleged there were only two nurses, two ward boys and one doctor on the night shift. None of them sustained any injuries. The ICU was charred beyond recognition.
A blast in the air-conditioner unit of the ICU of the four -storey hospital in Bolinj, Virar (West), is believed to have caused the fire. Sparks fell on the patients’ beds and set these ablaze, fire officials said. The ICU did not have the mandatory sprinkler systems, the officials said.
Sprinklers Absent, Could Have Saved Lives
The 90-bed Vijay Vallabh hospital in Virar, that came up six years ago, had renewed its fire licence last month but didn’t have the mandatory sprinklers.
Among the dead were a Vasai resident Kumar Doshi (45), whose wife Chandani (42), admitted to a Vasai hospital for Covid, died of cardiac arrest on hearing of her husband’s death. The couple has a 14-year-old daughter.
The ICU was operating at full capacity with 17 patients. When firemen reached the ICU at 3.13 am, 13 bodies were already charred. Four patients were rescued, but two of them succumbed to their burns later.
While most of the patients in the ICU were critical and died of suffocation and burns, a few who could have escaped were caught in the fire. A fire officer said preliminary investigations suggest that sparks hit the beds and equipment, resulting in the blaze flaring up.
The hospital’s fire audit had been carried out last month, and its fire licence was renewed on March 14. Sprinklers which are mandatory, however, were missing at the hospital building. Sources said casualties would have been fewer if the hospital had had sprinklers.
Ten fire engines were put into service and the fire was brought under control at around 3.45am. Those charred to death were identified as Uma Kangutkar (63), Nilesh Bhoir
(35), Pukraj Vaishnav (68), Rajni Kadu (60), Narendra Shinde (58), Kumar Doshi (45), Janardhan Mhatre (63), Ramesh Upayan (55), Praveen Gowda (65), Shama Mhatre (48), Suvarna Pitale (64), Supriya Deshmukh (43) and Amey Raut (23). Two patients, Shivaji Villar (56) and Nirav Sampat (31), succumbed later.
The atmosphere outside the hospital was tense as relatives vented their anger and demanded action against the hospital authorities. All Covid norms were violated as families went around looking for their kin. Many family members were forced to be in close proximity with Covid patients even though the relatives were prevented from entering the building. All 70 patients from the other floors were shifted to various hospitals, including the Dahisar jumbo centre.
The Vasai Virar Municipal Corporation announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh each to the kin of the victims. The state government announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for victims’ kin and Rs 1 lakh each for the injured. PM Narendra Modi announced Rs 2 lakh each for kin of victims and Rs 50,000 each for the injured.
To prevent such incidents, state chief secretary Sitaram Kunte on Friday asked all district administrations to conduct a fire and oxygen audit of all the hospitals across the state, including private hospitals. He also said that tankers carrying oxygen meant for medical use have been given the status of an ‘ambulance’ for uninterrupted transportation and should be given police protection.