The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi resumed services at the beginning of the week following the outbreak of a fire over the weekend.
No fatalities or injuries were reported in the blaze, which reportedly originated due to a short circuit. According to reports, the fire broke out on the first and second floors of the facility’s teaching block, which does not house any patients but is instead home to research laboratories and doctors’ offices.
The block in question, however, is connected to the hospital’s emergency ward and its emergency lab. No patients were present in the emergency lab at the time of the fire according to AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria. He added that “there was no fire at any ward”, although some wards were evacuated as a precautionary measure. Emergency patients were admitted to the nearby Safdarjung Hospital whilst the fire was being brought under control. Those who were moved have since been returned to their original wards.
As many as 34 fire tenders were dispatched and succeeded in controlling the blaze after twelve hours – an operation that Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan reportedly personally oversaw. In an official statement, AIIMS affirmed that “as per Delhi Fire Services and AIIMS Fire Division, the fire at Teaching Block of AIIMS, New Delhi has been put off completely. There has been no loss or damage to life.”
“The fire at AIIMS is yet another reminder that India’s hospitals regularly fail when it comes to fire safety. In Delhi alone, of the 1,478 registered hospitals, health sub-centres, maternity homes, and nursing homes, a mere 103 operate with a NOC from the DFS.”
The blaze affected five floors of the teaching block, with NDTV reporting that the first, second and third floors sustained “extensive damage”. According to one doctor quoted by The Times of India, “we fear that many blood samples of patients, research papers and costly equipment have been destroyed completely.”
It is undoubtedly fortunate that no loss of life or injury has been reported. However, the fire has led to questions being asked about fire safety practices at the facility. The Delhi Fire Services (DFS) said that some buildings at the AIIMS campus – including the building where the fire broke out – were operating without the required no-objection certificate (NOC) from the DFS. A first incident report (FIR) has been filed by the Delhi Police against individuals who, at the time of writing, have yet to be named – suggestive of criminal wrongdoing such as negligence. The DFS’s forensic team will submit a report to Delhi Police to determine the causes of the fire and whether negligence was the cause of the fire.
The fire at AIIMS is yet another reminder that India’s hospitals regularly fail when it comes to fire safety. In Delhi alone, of the 1,478 registered hospitals, health sub-centres, maternity homes, and nursing homes, a mere 103 operate with a NOC from the DFS. The fire at AIIMS served as an especially high-profile example of this. The absence of fatalities is a mercy, but it should not engender complacency. Multiple hospital fires have proven deadly in the past. Unless improvements are made to fire safety standards at hospitals where lapses are regularly flagged, there is no reason to be optimistic that this will not be the case during the next blaze.