A lethal fire that began on the ground floor of a hotel in Vijayawada, killed ten people on the morning of Sunday, 9 August. The accident occurred at Hotel Swarna Palace in Governorpet, which had been leased by Ramesh Hospitals to isolate COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms. The hotel did not have a fire NOC (No Objection Certificate), and did not have the necessary fire safety measures in place, leading to the fatalities, according to the Andhra Pradesh Fire Services Department authorities.
According to Assistant District Fire Officer for Krishna district A Sekhar, the height of the building being less than 18 metres meant that as a hotel, it was not mandatory to obtain a fire NOC from the Fire Services Department authorities.
However, with hotels being turned into COVID Care Centres, they would fall under the category of a medical facility. This means that they would need to set up many more fire safety measures and obtain a fire NOC regardless of the building’s height, Regional Fire Officer (RFO) for the Eastern Region of the state G Srinivasulu told The News Minute.
Even if the building had obtained a fire NOC as a hotel, it falls under the category of a residential occupancy as per the National Building Code of India rules, and even just a booster pump and hydrant systems would have sufficed, he said.
“If it is converted into a hospital building, fire safety measures should be more. They have to provide fire detection systems, hydrant systems and all such equipment. Automatic systems are required,” he said.
None of these systems were present at Hotel Swarna Palace. According to the Regional Fire Officer, before converting the hotel into a COVID Care Centre, the management should have provided all the required safety measures and applied for a fire NOC. However, the building had been recently converted to a COVID Care Centre from 17 July onwards, and no application for fire NOC had been received, Srinivasulu said.
“We found no sprinklers or alarm system. Pump also was not there. We only saw one or two extinguishers,” he said. Srinivasulu also said that no one was able to notice the fire in time, as there was nobody present in the reception area. “Everyone was resting in their individual rooms. Only when the smoke entered their rooms, they realised (there was a fire),” he said.
He also added that the design of the building had further worsened the situation. While the building requires two staircases for adequate safety, Srinivasulu said that apart from the internal staircase that was primarily in use, the alternate service staircase was not easily accessible.
“Its location was not properly marked, no one could have known that there is a staircase there,” he said. He further said that the primary staircase was “very internal”, and no ventilation was provided. “For any staircase, they should provide natural or mechanical ventilation. When the fire started, the smoke was locked into the staircase and corridor. If proper ventilation was there for staircase landing spaces, patients could have simply walked out of the building. Because of lack of proper ventilation, so much damage happened,” he said.
The fire started around 4:30 am on Sunday morning, preceded by a power cut. It started on the ground floor of the building, and rapidly spread to the first and second floors, with smoke entering the rooms even on the third and fourth floors.
Srinivasulu said that the lobby area of the hotel had been constructed with plywood which was flammable and hazardous, leading to the rapid spread of the fire. In addition, there was a false ceiling as well, which gave rise to very dense smoke and turned toxic for the patients, he said.
With the rising COVID-19 cases in the state, many private hotels have been turned into COVID-19 quarantine centres, or COVID Care Centres (CCCs) with basic medical care provided for asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic patients. Srinivasulu said that so far, none of these establishments have approached the fire department to obtain a fire NOC.
Starting from Monday, a special drive will be conducted on COVID Care Centres being run in hotels to evaluate the safety measures in place, he said.
(The story has been published in an arrangement with The News Minute)
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