Kolkata's posh Woodlands Hospital shows lapses like AMRI: Fire safety officials

Kolkata:  Days after Kolkata helplessly watched its fancy AMRI Hospital go up in smoke, comes the chilling diagnosis that the city's poshest hospital - Woodlands - is also a danger zone. 91 people died at AMRI on Friday, paying the humongous price for a series of lapses by both the hospital and the city's administration which overlooked them.

A four-member Fire Audit Regulatory Committee was set up by Chief Minster Mamata Banerjee  after the AMRI fire to inspect all the hospitals in Kolkata. Debapriya Biswas, Additional Director General, Fire Services and a member of the committee visited Woodlands hospital in South Kolkata's Alipore area this afternoon, and inspected the premises for about two hours.

Like AMRI, the road leading to the hospital is narrow and would make it tough for fire engines to drive up as quickly as needed.  The hospital only has a provisional No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the fire department. It was issued in 2010 with a set of recommendations that are still being incorporated. Recommendations included the setting up of fire alarms and sprinklers, the laying of hydrant lines etc. The provisional NOC was renewed this year.

At this moment, according to Woodlands director Probir Bose, a fire alarm system is in place but not activated, fire sprinklers are to be installed and he has been advised by the inspecting team today to install a booster pump for adequate water pressure in fire hoses.

The hospital has also been asked to build ramps connecting the three wings of the hospital complex which can be used for evacuation of patients in case of fire.

This morning, the city paid tribute at a moving ceremony to the victims of the AMRI fire.  At a function at the Lion's Safari Park, a short distance from the ill-fated hospital, a column  has been erected remembering the victims. (In pictures: Mamata pays tribute to AMRI fire victims)

Chief  Minister Mamata Banerjee said one government job will be offered to each affected family. She has also said 56 residents of the Panchantala slum, adjoining the hospitaL, will be honoured tomorrow for their bravery.  While families of patients accuse doctors and staff members of rushing out of the hospital after the fire began, it was young men from this slum who made repeated trips into the fume-filled hospital, trying to save patients from choking to death.  There were 160 patients inside AMRI when the fire began.  More than half - and five staff members - didn't survive.

Shocking details of lapses by AMRI hospital and the fire department have come to light today. The Additional Director General of the fire department has revealed how his department could have issued a closure notice to AMRI in August-September this year.

AMRI had  giving an undertaking that it would use the basement as a car-park as per the sanctioned plan, and its fire safety clearance was conditional. The fire chief admitted that officials from his department should have inspected the building again in 90 days, and ordered the hospital shut. This did not, however, happen.

Blaming the owners for one of the worst tragedies that the city has seen, Mr Biswas also revealed that the first information to fire brigade came from relative of patient and not from the hospital.

Fire department officials like Mr Biswas blame the hospital for turning into a death trap, alleging that the hospital did not have adequate fire-fighting facilities. AMRI staff has been denying this.

AMRI hospital was set up in 1996, and is co-owned by the Emami & Shrachi Groups.

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