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Why are India’s hospitals catching fire?

Updated: May 10, 2021

It's not just shortages of beds and oxygen that India's hospitals have to contend with as they now face another battle — fire — even as crematoria and graveyards run out of space for conducting funerals of Covid-19 victims, as bodies pile up. The latest incident of fire was reported at Gujarat’s Bharuch Welfare Hospital that claimed 18 lives.

In the midst of a surging Covid-19 pandemic and oxygen shortage, fires are fast becoming an added hazard, with the Bharuch incident being the ninth such incident this year and the 18th incident since the March 25 lockdown last year. The total loss of lives? 102

Incidentally, the cause of the fire at the Bharuch hospital is believed to have been a short circuit in the Covid-19 ward — in consonance with a 10-year study on hospital fires in India that was published last year, which found that 78% of all hospital fires were caused by an electrical short circuit, with air conditioning being the most common source of origin for the short circuit.

In fact, the rising tide of hospital fires last year during the pandemic had gotten the Supreme Court (SC) involved, which directed a fire safety audit of all hospitals every month, including the appointment of a nodal officer in each state who will be responsible for the hospital’s fire safety. The SC had then warned hospitals that fail to take a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department within four weeks would invite punitive action.

Another possible reason why hospitals may be a sitting duck for fires is the oxygen-enriched environment, especially inside the intensive care units (ICUs) and neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and operation rooms (ORs) where even the smallest spark can ignite a major fire, according to a 2013 study by IIT Kharagpur. This study also corroborated that ACs — especially window and split, which in turn are encased in plastic bodies — were the biggest source for electrical short circuits.


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