A fire broke out in the Vijay Vallabh Hospital, a COVID-19 facility, in Virar during the wee hours of 23 April 2021 claiming the lives of 13 Coronavirus patients. A short circuit in the air conditioning unit is believed to have caused the fire at 3:15 AM. According to information from the State government, three fire engines reached the spot immediately and the fire was put out.
District Disaster Control Cell chief Vivekanand Kadam informed that the fire occurred after an explosion in the AC unit of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Firefighters from the Vasai Virar Municipal Corporation put out the fire within an hour, Kadam said.
The fire broke out inside the ICU unit on the second floor of the four-storey hospital, where 17 patients were undergoing treatment out of which, four patients were rescued and the remaining 13 lost their lives which included five women.
As per the list of the deceased released by the fire brigade department, Vasai Virar Municipal Corporation, there were five women among the 13 patients who lost their lives in the fire. While the youngest victim was a 23-year-old boy, the oldest was a male patient ageing around 68 years.
“Around 90 patients were admitted to the hospital at the time of the incident,” Dilip Palav, Chief Executive Officer, Vijay Vallabh Hospital, told reporters this morning. He said that of these, 21 patients with oxygen support have been shifted to another hospital.
“We cannot even identify the gender of the patients as they have been charred beyond recognition,” said Palav.
Distressing visuals showed people mourning their loved ones. Chaos unfolded soon after the incident as friends and family members gathered outside the hospital, waiting for an update about the patients.
A video surfaced on YouTube by Mojo Story showing the chaos caused by the incident.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced financial aid of rupees five lakhs to the kin of the deceased and a lakh to those injured.
In a statement, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s office said he “has expressed sorrow” over the deaths. “He has directed that other patients undergoing treatment should not be harmed and should be relocated immediately.
“The cause of the fire should be investigated properly. The administration has been instructed to see whether the appropriate fire safety measures were taken in the hospital and conduct a proper inquiry into it,” said Thackeray, in the statement.
The Prime Minister’s office approved ex-gratia of two lakh each from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for the next of kin of those who lost their lives.
According to Avinash Patil, an eyewitness, the hospital did not have any fire safety measures like water sprinklers and the few fire extinguishers were not being used to control the big fire.
“There were no doctors present and only two nurses were standing before the hospital when the incident took place. I could see the ICU ward completely in smoke and the charred bodies,” said Patil, adding, “I had come to the hospital to admit my friend’s mother on Friday morning and saw the fire”.
Leader of the Opposition and former Maharashtra CM, Devendra Fadnavis questioned the government on its preparedness and successive announcements of conducting fire audits.
“It is being said after every incident that fire audit will be conducted across the State. At a time when hospitals are running under pressure, the government seems to be avoiding its responsibility,” he said.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray too questioned whether the State administration learned anything from the past incidents. “The government must immediately form a team of officials to conduct fire audits and take immediate action on problems encountered,” he said.
This was not the first fire breakout incident from Maharashtra during the second wave of COVID-19 spread. This incident follows the fire break out incident at the Sunrise Hospital in Dreams Mall in Bhandup on 25-26 March 2021, in which 11 persons died. Also, on 9 January 2021, a fire broke out in the Bhandara District Hospital in Bhandup, in which 10 newborn babies died.