Fire Safety in Hospitals – Here is What You Need to Know
It’s with a heavy heart that we write this blog, with a hope that it coaxes authorities and management to take the right steps required to ensure that hospitals are a safe space for all. Just a few days ago, a fire in ESIC Kamgar Hospital, Mumbai claimed the lives of 8, including a six-month-old infant. Besides infrastructural flaws which deterred the efforts of the firefighting team, the hospital was far from prepared to take care of a disaster of any magnitude, and this is a worrisome issue. 145 patients and visitors were severely injured in the mishap and the firefighting operations were conducted for 3 hours before things were within control. 147 people were rescued from the hospital had to be moved to other hospitals, which is ironic because a hospital is supposed to be one of the safest, most antiseptic spaces, it is a place where one goes to heal, so safety should obviously be of paramount importance.
What’s more alarming is that this is not a one-off incident. Earlier this year, a devastating fire broke out in Calcutta Medical College. It took a total of 10 fire engines to get the fire under control, and patients had to be carried out in bed sheets, still attached to their IV, something that puts them in a very dangerous situation if anything were to go wrong. The fire ignited in the pharmacy, and was only noticed after smoke started emerging from the building in the wee hours of the morning. By the time the authorities made it to the location, the fire was blazing. All of the medicine stocked in the dispensary were destroyed, and if the fire were to break out in any other part of the college, patients could have lost their lives. This disaster could’ve been easily averted if there were good smoke detectors in place, and if there were control panels with fire represents which would have been activated so quickly that intervention from the local authorities may have even been unnecessary. It’s also noteworthy that hospitals are inhabited by patients, who are already suffering from ailments, they may not have the strength to escape the building in time, which makes hospital fires even more unsafe.
In light of such tragic events, let’s go through the various checkpoints when it comes to fire safety in hospitals.
A lot of the machines in hospitals, from ECG machines to MRI scanners generate a lot of heat when they’re in use. Sometimes, these machines can get exceedingly hot, so it is important to make sure that they do not reach dangerous temperatures which could cause a short circuit. A heat detector will raise an alarm before temperatures rise to the degree wherein it is dangerous. This prevents fires from starting as a result of overheating of machinery. Another very real risk is wiring coming in contact with heated devices, the heat can cause the wire to melt away, making the environment dangerous, and the wiring at risk of short-circuiting. A heat detector can rectify all of this so that accidents and damage to machinery are eliminated.
Smoke and Heat Detector
In some areas of hospitals, there is a lot of overlapping of wiring, making the risk of short circuits and electrical fires very high. In such spaces, it is important to have a detector that can pick up on smoke and heat, so that disasters are managed within time. Smoke can arise if wires begin to melt, and there are a few precious moments which allow you to act in time and divert a disaster, but this is only possible if the smoke is detected within a few seconds, which is exactly what a good smoke and heat detector will do.
You may have noticed this in schools, malls and even residential societies, an MCP is basically an emergency alarm panel which will sound a loud siren and alert the authorities in case of a disaster. One such alarm should be installed in every room, so that in case a patient who is not healthy enough to walk or call for help, the alarm can always be sounded. An MCP can save the life of a patient, especially in cases of arson or accidental fires. An MCP may not necessarily trigger fire retardants, but it is like a panic button for patients to make them feel safer. It is also sensible to enable patients to raise the alarm in the wee hours of the morning, where the staff is also fewer in number and less equipped to deal with a full-blown disaster. At least an MCP will help you alert the authorities in time.
Addressable Fire Alarms
Due to their ability to pinpoint the precise location of the fire in a large space, addressable fire alarm systems are a must in hospitals. Your average hospital is huge, and it spans across various levels on different floors. If it weren’t for addressable fire alarms, in case of a fire in one corner of the hospital, the opposite corner would be oblivious which is an extremely dangerous situation to be in is. With these alarms, you are immediately sounded off and are also made aware of the exact location of the fire so that you can save precious time and take immediate action. This also means that there is less damage to collateral, machinery, and infrastructure.
Since a lot of medicines are stored at cold temperatures, a gas detector for refrigerant leaks is a must. Cold storage facilities are always at risk of gas leaks which can be fatal if not deterred in time. Since hospitals also have large, industrial-sized kitchens where food is prepared through the day, LPG, PNG and CNG gas detectors are imperative. These gas leaks are some of the most dangerous and since kitchens are laden with things which are flammable and combustible, one cannot skimp on these detectors. Another important space to look at within a hospital in terms of gas detectors is the parking lot. Carbon monoxide is a deadly, odourless and colourless gas which can kill within minutes. This is why carbon monoxide gas detectors are a must in hospital parking lots.
Door Release Systems
Much like hotels, some of the doors in hospitals are pressure sealed. It’s important to understand that in times of emergency, human beings have a tendency to panic, and in these states of panic, they may try to manually break down pressure-sealed doors to escape. But this can lead to grave injuries and, therefore, it is best to have systems in place which will automatically open such pressure sealed doors in cases of emergencies.
Fire sprinklers are ideal for outdoor areas and spaces where there is not too much electrical wiring. If there were a fire to break out in the cafeteria, canteen or terrace, a fire sprinkler could make all the difference to saving precious time and gaining control over the fire.
We believe that prevention is always better than cure, especially when it comes to a fire in a hospital. However, if push comes to shove, fire suppressant systems can help in containing a fire until the authorities come, thereby saving precious lives. Fire suppressant systems are wired to fire alarms, so if triggered, these systems will activate automated sprinkler systems and will release fire retardant gases or foam which will contain the fire. These should ideally be installed in electrical meter rooms, panels, and high power diagnostic equipment, basically many of the high-risk areas in a hospital or any large building. A part of these systems is oxygen reduction system which, as the name suggests, fights oxygen in the air which is something that ignites a fire. Oxygen reduction goes a long way in keeping a fire from spreading and is a good way to buy time till the authorities arrive.
Regular Audits of Equipment and Evacuation Training
It’s not enough to just make a one-time investment, when it comes to fire safety, regular audits and checks are a must. This is to understand if the equipment is still functional or would it require servicing. There are many elements and components that make up a fire alarm system. It is important to regularly check the health of your systems and installations. Solutions like Firetweet can be useful in continuous monitoring of fire safety systems and equipment. Such solutions send automatic alerts when the systems are not working and need immediate attention. This can help them in taking preventive actions and avoid tragedies.
Another important factor to take care of is the readiness and capability of your workforce to act in times of emergency. Mock drills and evacuation training sessions should be delivered from time to time to ensure that the workforce is well versed on how to use the equipment, and how to go about an evacuation in a calm, collected and composed manner.
These are the various steps that you can take to make your hospital a safer space in times of emergency, especially in times of fires. It’s important to remember that hospitals are inhabited with the elderly, the sick, infants, and people who may be physically impaired. Many are even bedridden, which is why our systems focus on detection and suppression so that the fire itself is contained and nobody gets hurt. With hospital fires, prevention is the only way to really protect the people who reside in it.
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