8 out of 11 fire extinguishers expired; 4 of 5 patients were Covid-19 negative
The Fire Service and Civil Defence authority has said that the Covid-19 unit of United Hospital was very risky and the patients died due to suffocation from smoke after the fire broke out.
Fire Service Deputy Director (Dhaka) Debashish Vardhan, also the member secretary of the probe committee formed to investigate the fire, said this while speaking to reporters at the hospital premises on Thursday.
Earlier, five patients died in the devastating fire incident at the makeshift “corona unit” of United Hospital in Dhaka on Wednesday night.
The deceased are Monir Hossain, 75, Mohammad Mahbub, 50, Vernon Anthony Paul, 74, Riazul Alam, 45, and Khodeja Begum, 70.
Debashish said: “The partitions and ceilings of the Covid-19 unit were made of particle boards, which is highly combustible. Therefore, the fire spread quickly, and there were no on-duty hospital staff at the unit, which delayed the patients from getting out in time.”
How events unfolded
The fire started at 9:35pm on Wednesday. But the fire control room was informed at 9:55pm. Fire service team rushed to the spot and fire was extinguished within 20 minutes, the deputy director said.
Hospital authorities tried to douse the fire with the fire extinguishers kept at the hospital, but they did not work as the fire extinguishers had expired, he added.
“We will submit the investigation report soon. It is the hospital authority's responsibility to change the expired fire extinguishers, which should have been changed 45 days ago.”
“They have fire hydrants but those were not used,” Debashish furthered.
“There were air conditioners and electrical devices. Since there was an electrical line inside, the fire might have broken out from there. We are scrutinizing everything,” he added.
The fire started between 9:40pm-9:45pm on Wednesday. At that time, there was an electric spark in the corona unit igniting the fire, according to police, hospital, and relatives of the deceased.
A relative of the deceased called emergency number 999 at 9:48pm. The fire service then rushed to the spot and doused the fire, the sources added.
They said that the deceased Vernon Anthony Paul’s daughter-in-law called the emergency number after she saw the spark and fire. Later, she ran and informed the emergency department of the hospital.
Then three hospital workers tried to put out the fire using mops. There were no buckets around. Later, she ran and found buckets of water and tried to douse the flames, but in the meantime, the fire blazed out of control.
Just then, firefighters arrived and doused the fire.
Raisul Azam Dablu, elder brother of deceased Reazul Alam Liton, alleged that the incident took place due to the negligence of the hospital authorities. He learned from his relatives that the corona unit was locked when the fire broke out. He claimed that his brother could not get out in time because of that.
Since his brother was in good health and his report was negative, he could have escaped the fire if the unit hadn’t been locked, he claimed.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner (Gulshan Division) Sudip Kumar Chakraborty said the family has not filed any complaint on the incident.
8 out of 11 fire extinguishers expired
Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor Atiqul Islam, after visiting the hospital, said that eight of the total 11 fire extinguishers in the corona unit of United Hospital expired a month ago.
He said: “If the hospital had a firefighting team and conducted fire drills in their corona unit, such an incident would not have happened."
“However, they [hospital authority] claimed to have a firefighting team who would not enter the room in fear of coronavirus infection, as there were Covid-19 patients in the room.”
The mayor also said: “No one was in charge of operating the fire hydrant or any other responsibility; no one had specified roles in case of a fire incident."
“An investigation is underway to find out whether anyone was responsible or was there any negligence in the fire incident,” Atiqul said.
“If the investigation shows any negligence, the government should take action against those responsible,” he added.
The Fire Service formed a four-member probe body led by Director (operations and maintenance) Lt Col Zillur Rahman to investigate the incident.
A CID’s crime unit also visited the scene to collect evidence.
4 patients tested Covid-19 negative
DMP’s DC (Gulshan Division) Sudip Kumar Chakraborty said that of the five deceased, four were Covid-19 negative. “We handed over one of the deceased to their family.”
The only Covid-19 positive patient’s body was handed over to Al-Markazul Islami Bangladesh for burial according to the IEDCR guidelines, he added.
Among the deceased Md Monir Hossain, 75, was Covid-19 positive.
United Hospital files unnatural death case
United Hospital authority has filed an unnatural death (UD) case over the incident with the Gulshan police station around 4:30am on Thursday, confirmed Gulshan police OC SM Kamruzzaman to Dhaka Tribune.
None of the family members of the five deceased filed any complaints. The hospital's Manager Admin and Security Maj (retd) Md Moinul Hossain filed the UD case on behalf of the hospital, the OC said.
Police are now investigating the matter, he added.
United Hospital authority's accounts
Dr Sagufa Anwar, director for Communications and Business Development at United Hospital said that around 9:30pm Wednesday, a fire broke out by an electric short circuit. “Immediately after the incident, in five to seven minutes, our duty manager called the fire station for help.”
At that time all of the patients had oxygen support inside the isolation unit. There was a very high flow of oxygen supply inside the corona unit and oxygen is a highly inflammable material, she added.
Dr Sagufa said: “We have plans to set up the unit near the fire hydrant so that water can be facilitated, if necessary.”
Enquiring about the complaint from the relatives of the deceased that the corona unit had irregularities, Sagufa denied and said, the authority is very sorry for the loss but the corona unit has all types of necessary facilities for ensuring treatment.
Replying to a question that after the incident, security personnel did not allow media personnel to enter the hospital premises, Dr Sagufa said it could have happened because it was a panic situation.
She also said the hospital is continuing to provide all types of service including coronavirus treatment. They paused the Covid-19 test only for Thursday.
Meanwhile, the hospital authority had issued two press releases on Wednesday and Thursday. The releases mentioned two different time-frames, 9:30pm and 9:40pm, respectively, as the time of the incident.