JOHOR BAHRU: The fire that claimed the lives of six people at the Sultanah Aminah Hospital (HSA) today is believed to have started in the Intensive Care Unit’s (ICU) treatment room before spreading to the entire ward.
Health Minister Dr S Subramaniam said it was also believed that the blaze was not easy to put out and spread even faster due to the presence of breathing apparatus containing oxygen gas used by ICU patients.
“Efforts to save all patients were made. Since the fire spread too fast, some staff who were on duty suffered from difficulty in breathing and some fainted due to thick smoke,” he told a press conference here today.
Dr Subramaniam said the ministry would await a full report from the Fire and Rescue Department before taking further action.
Meanwhile, in a statement earlier, he said the ministry would get to the bottom of the tragedy by appointing a special committee comprising the relevant agencies and a team of experts.
“We’ve been informed that the rapid spread of the fire and huge columns of smoke hindered rescue efforts,” Dr Subramaniam said.
The six people who perished in the fire that broke out just before 9am today were all ICU patients. The seventh patient was rescued.
At the press conference, Dr Subramaniam said he hoped the victims’ families and their next-of-kin would remain strong despite the tragedy.
At the same time, he instructed hospital staff to render any form of assistance that the families of the victims needed.
“As an institution that provides healthcare to patients, we’re certainly very saddened by this incident. We’re asking the public not to speculate about the cause of the fire,” he said.
Asked whether safety checks had been carried out at the hospital, Dr Subramaniam replied in the affirmative, adding that the ministry itself had a dedicated team to monitor such matters.
Dr Subramaniam thanked the fire and rescue crews for preventing the blaze from spreading to other parts of the building, and HSA staff for evacuating 467 patients to safety.
Meanwhile Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, in a Facebook posting, said a detailed briefing on the fire was provided by HSA staff as well as fire and police officials during a visit by the minister, Health Secretary-General Dr Chen Chaw Min and himself to the hospital.
“The fire started at the treatment room in the ICU before it became uncontrollable and spread to the rest of the ICU,” he said.
He said the water sprinklers were triggered and hospital staff tried to control the fire with the available fire extinguishers before the Fire and Rescue teams arrived to take control of the situation.
“Their efforts helped prevent the blaze on this floor from spreading,” he said.
“Two of our staff nurses and a student physiotherapist tried their very best to evacuate the ventilated patients and, in their attempt, collapsed from inhaling the thick smoke,” Dr Noor Hisham said.
He said they were immediately rescued and transferred to the Sultan Ismail Hospital.
“Their heroic attempts and bravery to save the patients deeply touched my heart. I am proud of them and all our staff for working together as a team to evacuate the over 400 patients to safety per fire and disaster protocol,” he said.
The contingency plan was initiated and patients diverted to nearby hospitals.
Dr Noor Hisham said the sole patient rescued from the ICU at HSA was critically ill and had been transferred to the Burn Unit at Sultan Ismail Hospital.
“Ten (HSA) staff were affected by the fire and three were admitted to the ICU in Sultan Ismail Hospital. The other seven sustained minor injuries and are under close monitoring,” he said.