The hospital allegedly did not contact the fire service immediately after the flames broke out and did not keep adequate fire suppression system at the unit
The United Hospital is facing accusations of irresponsibility, negligence and carelessness over the death of five people, including three confirmed Covid-19 patients, in a fire that broke out on Wednesday.
The hospital administration has been accused of not contacting the fire service immediately after the flames broke out, not keeping adequate fire suppression system at the coronavirus unit and building that unit with Partex boards.
The administration has also been accused of not replacing nine of the 11 fire extinguishers at the coronavirus unit after those expired and filing an unnatural death case on behalf of the hospital after the incident without speaking to the relatives of the deceased.
However, the United Hospital administration has provided some explanation on those matters.
Speaking to the media at the hospital gate on Thursday, Dr Shagufta Anwar, chief of communications and business development at the facility, said, "The hospital administration believes that the fire might have originated from a short circuit.
"A 12-member probe committee, headed by Admin and Security Manager Major (retd) Moinul Hossain, has been formed to investigate the incident. The committee has been asked to submit a report within the next three days."
Terming the fire yet another gruesome incident amid the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Shagufta said, "All five patients were under life support and taking oxygen. The fire spread throughout the unit so quickly we could not get any of them out.
"The fire spread rapidly because of the oxygen. On Thursday, the hospital administration handed over the bodies of four deceased to their relatives around 5am. The last of the five bodies was handed over around 1pm."
Dr Shagufta added, "All healthcare facilities, including dialysis, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, have resumed normally at the hospital. Around 140 patients are presently admitted at the facility. We have spoken to them and their family members.
"We are conveying our deep condolences to those who lost their beloved family members."
Fire service called after 25 minutes
According to the United Hospital administration, the fire originated at 9:30pm on Wednesday. But the fire service said they received information about the fire at 9:55pm.
Facing questions over why the fire service was contacted after 25 minutes, who was responsible for calling the service and why the fire was not brought under control after 25 minutes, the hospital administration could not provide any explanation.
Fire Service and Civil Defence Director General Brig Gen Sajjad Hossain said, "After receiving information about the fire at 9:55pm, we entered the United Hospital at 10:04pm and began to bring the fire under controls.
"They quickly doused the flames. We had previously conducted a fire drill in the same area."
Meanwhile, Gulshan police sources said instead of the United Hospital administration, the relative of a patient called "999" to inform them about the fire.
Deputy Commissioner (Gulshan Division) Sudip Kumar Chakraborty said, "A relative of a patient was standing at the hospital gate. He saw the flames at 9:48pm and called 999. We have checked his phone.
"Later, we quickly informed the fire service through the Bhatara police station. The fire escalated while the fire service was arriving at the scene. So, the fire could not be doused at its initial stage."
Addressing the matter, Dr Shagufta Anwar said, "The allegation is not true. We called the fire service immediately. The delayed arrival of the fire service at the scene should be looked into."
9 out of 11 fire extinguishers expired
The fire service and Criminal Investigation Department's (CID) forensic team has found that nine of the eleven fire extinguishers installed at the coronavirus isolation unit have expired.
The unit is located outside the main building of the hospital. The CID has confiscated the fire extinguishers as evidence.
After visiting the scene of the incident, Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Atiqul Islam said, "The hospital administration cannot avoid responsibility for the tragic deaths of people who came here to get treatment.
"I have enquired about the situation. I have spoken with the relatives of the patients and the hospital administration. My initial thought is that the hospital authorities have shown negligence, as most the fire extinguishers installed there were expired."
He continued, "I do not know the present condition of the main hospital building's fire suppression system. From now on, other hospitals which are planning to make such extended facilities, must take proper fire safety into consideration.
"The incident could have been avoided if the hospital had its own firefighting team. Those who were present could not go into the unit in fear of coronavirus infection."
Adding that the CID forensic team has collected evidence from the scene, the Dhaka North mayor said, "Gulshan police are investigating the incident. The fire service has also formed a probe committee to investigate the matter.
The city corporation will extend any support to ensure a thorough investigation."
He continued, "The death of five patients is a tragic event. If the investigation finds any evidence of negligence against the United Hospital, appropriate measures will be taken against them."
Fire Service Deputy Director (Dhaka) Debashish Vardhan, also the chief of a probe committee formed to investigate the incident, said, "Under the government directive, the United Hospital built a separate isolation unit for the coronavirus patients. The unit was very risky.
"The unit was built out of Partex type material, which is highly flammable. The fire quickly engulfed the whole unit. Usually, no one stays near the Covid-19 patients. The deceased five were the only patients admitted in the unit. They could not get out after the blaze started."
Fire Service and Civil Defence Director General Brig Gen Sajjad Hossain said, "There was no serious fire suppression system there. But there was a fire hydrant beside the coronavirus unit. The hospital administration probably could not use it.
"They could not bring the fire under control. Later the fire service arrived at the scene and dowsed the flames."
Unnatural death case in haste
The United Hospital found the bodies of the deceased around 10:15pm on Wednesday. Around an hour later, the hospital administration filed an unnatural death case with the Gulshan police station.
There are allegations that the hospital authorities filed the case at 11:30pm, without speaking to the relatives of the deceased patients. Two family members of the deceased have confirmed The Business Standard that they did not know anything about the unnatural death case.