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Fire at NBMCH newborn care unit, 59 infants safe

It is learnt that the unit has a capacity of 31, but it often remains overcrowded. NBMCH authorities said the nursing staff spotted smoke billowing from the regulator of the fan at 3.40 am and they immediately pressed the alarm button.

SANKHA GHOSH | Siliguri |

A fire at the Sick Newborn Care Unit (SNCU) of the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital (NBMCH) in Siliguri sparked panic today, while the incident raised questions on the electrical infrastructure of the region’s premier health institution.

However, all the 59 babies in the unit were safe and shifted to the pediatric ward and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

It is learnt that the unit has a capacity of 31, but it often remains overcrowded. NBMCH authorities said the nursing staff spotted smoke billowing from the regulator of the fan at 3.40 am and they immediately pressed the alarm button.

The incident brought back memories of a ventilator machine that caught fire in the Critical Care Unit of the NBMCH, when a person died of suffocation on 27 September last year.

“It appears that the fire was caused due to an electrical short-circuit in the regulator of the fan. The emergency evacuation system was immediately pressed into service and it worked on a war footing. There were 59 babies that time, and they were evacuated and shifted safely. Doctors and nursing staff there responded swiftly. It will take at least three days for the SNCU to get back to normal functioning,” NBMCH superintendent Dr Kaushik Samajdar said.

The incident posed questions on whether regular maintenance of the electrical system is done in the NBMCH. Dr Samajdar, however, claimed that the electrical infrastructure is reviewed on a weekly basis.

Sources said mothers of the babies were in the SNCU for breast feeding till 3 am, and many of them were present during the fire. There were three nursing staff and some security guards at the SNCU, when the incident happened. The mothers and relatives of other patients, however, blamed the NBMCH authorities.

“They should have been more careful in preventing such incidents. I cannot believe what would have happened had the nurses not spotted the smoke on time,” said a mother of twins, Dilruba Khanom.

A resident of Jalpaiguri she said her babies were suffering from jaundice. Itu Dutta, a mother of a 13- day-old girl, said the unit plunged into darkness while smoke filled the room. “It was a horrible incident, and my baby was there. Had the medical staff not acted promptly, it could have been a disaster. I have doubts on the proper maintenance of the electrical set-up,” said the resident of Alipurduar.