By Dr. Vikram Mehta (fondly known as the Fire Evacuation Man of Maharashtra)
The public health department of Maharashtra has issued fresh guidelines to public hospitals to maintain a regular fire safety system. According to a recent USFA report, there is an average of 5,700 fires reported every year in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, with 48% of those reported fires in nursing homes. These fires claim lives and are responsible for property damage that total millions of dollars. An analysis of hospital fires found that at least 122 people died in hospital fires between August 2020 and April 2022.
Several guidelines state that hospitals should ensure that fire extinguishers are in working condition and regularly filled up, discrepancies in the fire audits should be plugged in, mock drills must be organized every three months and fire exits are displayed clearly, among others.
While these steps are a must while following fire safety protocols in hospitals, there is one aspect that deserves more attention– fire evacuation measures. For years, most hospitals in India have limited the fire evacuation plans to fire exits, fire lifts, and chutes and see no reason to upgrade them. But the reality is that it needs not just an upgrade, but a complete overhaul. One such measure that can help minimize the loss of human lives in a hospital fire is a fire evacuation lift. And no, it is not the same as a fire lift or fire chute.
The fire evacuation lift should rightfully be called the vertical fire brigade as it reaches higher floors vertically and can be operated by anyone. It is also called the new PPE (Public Protection Equipment) as it saves the lives of people in a hospital or in a high-rise building that has caught fire, in the minimum time possible as compared to any rescue equipment such as Fire Lifts or Fire towers.
A 2020 study, published in the International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health, found 78% of the 33 analyzed fire mishaps in Indian hospitals between 2010 and 2019 happened due to electrical short-circuits or similar problems. A majority of these fire mishaps happened in government hospitals (25). The study found that only 19 of the 33 hospitals had a functional firefighting system.
A hospital has patients of all ages, recovering from various forms of health maladies, on its premises. These include even those who are bedridden or unable to move around without a wheelchair, they are unable to jump or run for their lives like regular people in that state. Therefore, it becomes a cumbersome task to get such people out of the hospital. They tend to slip off the stairs, leaving the attendants in a state of panic when they try to evacuate them. There have also been times when patients have either just come out of surgery or have been in the middle of one when the fire struck, they have to be rescued along with the surgical bed and other medical paraphernalia. The evacuation process can be time-consuming and fatal under such circumstances as the fire lift or the chute has limitations, in terms of accommodating a large group or providing other facilities. This is where a fire evacuation lift proves to be God-sent.
A fire evacuation lift is not only advanced in terms of technology but is also designed to evacuate people of all ages and abilities within minutes. Within 3 minutes, a fire evacuation lift is capable of helping ERT (emergency rescue team) reach the 40th floor and can evacuate on time. Its cabin can withstand fire for two hours as it is made of non-combustible material. It has an IoT (Internet of Things) based control panel, which enables automatic notifications to the nearest fire brigade in the event of a fire. Apart from being equipped with firefighting apparatus like a fire blanket, first-aid box, and breathing apparatus, it also has a trap door on the roof for an emergency exit and a 30-minute battery backup in case of power failure. Most importantly, any person can operate this lift without waiting for a liftman or firefighters during such fire emergencies. None of this is possible with the fire life or chute.
The potential of the fire evacuation lift is not just limited to the rescue, but also the rescuers – in this case, the firemen. The hydraulic ladders used by the fire department have its limitations. The fire evacuation lift, on the contrary, helps the firemen or the ERT reach the fire spot in a jiffy, save lives and carry out the rescue in a shorter time. It also eases the pressure off the firemen, who tend to carry 20 kg of breathing apparatus (BA) up the stairs during a fire. So, it’s imperative that every hospital install this form of PPE.
It is high time cities like Mumbai acknowledge the deficit in estimating the fire risk, upgrade the fire evacuation solutions and install a fire evacuation lift in every hospital. The huge difference it will make in preventing loss of lives and assets in the hospitals. Maharashtra’s Energy Department, in conjunction with the Municipal Corporation and the Fire Brigade Department, has made it mandatory to install Fire Evacuation Lift in every high-rise building scaling 70 meters and above since January 2018. The Energy Department issued the circular as an advisory in July 2022 on installing fire evacuation lifts in high-rise buildings with heights of 70m and above.