Fire safety plan needed for all hospitals, says researcher

Experts have called for the release of a 2016 report into a hospital fire in which six patients died. (Bernama pic)

GEORGE TOWN: An academic has called for a comprehensive fire safety plan to be drawn up for all hospitals which takes into account the hospitals’ wiring, building design, and oxygen supply system.

Mohd Zailan Sulieman of Universiti Sains Malaysia said there was no single solution to prevent fires at all hospitals, hence the need for an urgent fire safety audit.

“By right, all electrical wiring in any building must be replaced every 15 years under the law. A hospital is a public building and we must make sure that this is followed through and through,” he told FMT.

On Sunday a fire broke out at Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor Bahru, the second time since a fire in 2016 killed six patients. No one was hurt in the latest incident.

Mohd Zailan Sulieman of Universiti Sains Malaysia

Zailan said older hospital buildings, built before the Universal Building Bylaws came into effect, were not built to meet today’s standards. HSA was built in 1938 and Penang Hospital in 1854.

Although fire safety management in most government hospitals were at “satisfactory levels”, lack of funds remained a problem.

Government hospitals must look into the standards adopted by private hospitals. New buildings must use the right building materials. Wooden materials and plastic wallpaper should be banned. Attention must be also given to the design of medical gas supply systems, to avoid fire hazards.

Zailan praised HSA staff for safely evacuating the 24 patients in the HSA ward on Sunday. However, he alleged that most public hospital staff remained ignorant of fire escape routes and procedures. Research at several hospitals had found that firefighting cabinets had been used instead as storage for janitorial items, causing difficulty in case of fire.

Another stumbling problem was incompetent maintenance of fire system equipment. He alleged that most smoke detectors were ineffective, not connected to a central fire alert system.

Zailan, an associate professor at USM’s School of Housing, Building and Planning, called for the release of the 2016 findings by the special committee investigating the HSA fire.

“From there, we can get useful recommendations to prevent future fires,” he said and called for fire safety experts, not doctors, to advise and coordinate on fire safety plans.

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