LAHORE – At least seven infants were burnt alive while 16 others sustained multiple burn injuries when fire broke out in the Nursery Unit of the Services Hospital on Thursday.
However, Special Assistant to the Punjab Chief Minister on Health, Khawaja Salman Rafique confirmed six deaths. He told reporters that the bodies of two babies had been handed over to their families, adding that the remaining four babies were completely burnt; therefore, they would be handed over to the aggrieved families after conducting the DNA tests.
An eyewitness said at least four to five infants were burnt to death. “I was trying to rescue one of the babies when I listened to another one screaming, but there was a silence within few seconds amidst relentless fire,” the witness said, as tears rolled down on his cheeks.
According to a senior doctor, who shared information requesting anonymity, there is no chance of his or her survival when 40 per cent body of an adult is burnt, while a baby cannot sustain even minor heat due to the fire or sizzling hot weather.
Attendants and visitors maintained that the Services Hospital administration lacked proper fire extinguishing equipment to tackle such incidents. They claimed to have witnessed not a single firefighting gadget at the second floor of the hospital and added that situation was similar at other departments as well.
A couple of attendants strongly criticised the Punjab Government, accusing it of ignoring the deteriorating condition of the patients at the public hospitals.
During his visit at the Services Hospital, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said a committee comprising top officials had been constituted to bring facts to the public. The chief minister also announced compensation for the victim families.
An eyewitness, Muhammad Ameen, said fire erupted due to the short-circuiting and spread so rapidly that it engulfed the entire Nursery Unit. The clouds of smoke covered the entire unit, while the leakage of oxygen gas also increased the intensity of the fire.
Ameen further said shortly after the eruption of fire, all the on-duty staff - including nurses, doctors and other paramedical staff - left the unit to avoid burns, leaving all the babies in the inferno and dense smoke.
Rescue-1122 (Lahore Range) Media Coordinator Karamat Ali said, “The main cause of the fire eruption was short-circuiting in the AC that was installed inside the main room of the Nursery Unit.
He, however, said the rescue officials accomplished a noble job of saving lives of many innocent.
A nurse, using the pseudonym Mehreen, said the smoke emitting from the unit alerted the mothers of the infants, visitors, common attendants and the patients, admitted in nearby wards.
She said some of the attendants ran out of their wards and broke windowpanes of Nursery Unit to rescue the trapped babies before the arrival of hospital administration. She further said the attendants and visitors did a good job and saved several lives of the infants through a timely intervention.
Meanwhile, the Rescue 1122 and Edhi officials, who reached 15 minutes after the incident, shifted the babies to other hospitals.
The rescuers and firefighters of the Civil Defence controlled fire after hectic efforts of two hours, but with no success, as the fire had already claimed three innocent lives.
Ironically, the hospital administration started shifting the relatives of the victim babies to the nearby hospitals in order to keep them away from media men, saying their babies were shifted to the other clinics for proper care.
A visitor, who had reached hospital to attend his patient admitted at the Bed No 7 of Neurosurgery Department, fulminated at the hospital administration, on-duty doctors, nurses and other employees. He claimed that nobody dared to rescue the innocent babies trapped in the fire. He, however, also criticised the Rescue 1122 officials, saying untrained fire fighters sprayed water, without caring the babies trapped there, so carelessly as one of the babies fell from the bed due to the intensity of the shower.
Prof Dr Faisal Masood and Services Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Rehana Malik refused to share information in the wake of the fire incident with the media. Sources said Rehana was on a visit to the Health Department, while Prof Faisal was also out of the hospital at the time of the tragic incident. Khawaja Salman Rafique and Lahore District Coordination Officer Noor-ul-Amin Mengal initially claimed one death and later Khawaja confirmed six deaths.
7 infants die in City hospital fire