Fire accidents in COVID19 Hospitals

Fire accidents happening in COVID19 hospitals in India has claimed hundreds of lives. Those who lost their lives in these fire accidents are not just COVID patients struggling with their breath, but also the hospital staff. Here we will tell you the real culprit behind these fire incidents. Most people think that its some electrical short circuit or too much summer heat is causing these fire breaks, but you will be surprised to know that most of the times its happening due to oxygen cylinders.

Oxygen Cylinders causing Fire Accidents

Yes, you heard it right. Oxygen Cylinders are the real culprit behind these accidents. Most of the people think that Oxygen is just a life saving gas, but they don't know that its improper handling can cause fire. Oxygen is not flammable, but it helps other materials to catch fire far more rapidly. In normal atmosphere oxygen concentration is 21%. A healthy human being can survive in an atmosphere with 19.5 to 23.5% oxygen in air. If the oxygen concentration in air rises above 24% then it can cause fire just by mere friction of clothes. 

Oxygen cylinders that are usually used for medical purpose contain 60% oxygen. Oxygen cylinders used in industries may contain upto 100% oxygen. Due to shortage of medical oxygen, now a days even industrial oxygen is being used to treat patients. However 100% oxygen is dangerous for healthy human lungs if given for longer duration, but COVID19 patients are getting it to recover from decreasing SpO2 level in their body to save their lives.

Dangers associated with oxygen cylinders

Poorly ventilated rooms are common in COVID19 hospitals as staff needs to keep the other rooms safe from viral infection. If an oxygen cylinder has a leaking valve or hose, then it may increase the oxygen concentration in a poorly ventilated room. If oxygen concentration in these rooms rises above 24%,  then even a small mistake can put the whole room on fire. Some of such mistakes are :

  • A spark in electrical socket. It may happen even when somebody tries to charge his phone by connecting the charger on a wall socket. Spark may even occur while using any other electrical equipment.
  • Nearly all materials including textiles, metals, plastic and rubber burn vigorously in oxygen. Fires that occur in high oxygen concentration and in presence of oxygen supply/ oxygen cylinders is very hard to be controlled. Damaged oxygen cylinders can even cause a blast in fire.
  • Dust particles on the valve of an oxygen cylinder can catch fire due to friction, if we open it too fast, so it it should be opened slowly and making sure that there is no dust on it.
  • Another suspected cause of fire is excessive use of alcohol based hand sanitizers. Alcohol is highly flammable and oxygen rich atmosphere inside COVID wards give it a better opportunity to get ignited. In some hospitals alcohol based sanitizers are not just being used to sanitize hands but also the floor and walls, which increases the risk manyfold. 
  • Alcohol fumes get stacked at the ceilings which can easily result in fire accident. If proper exhaust fans are used in these wards then these alcohol fumes (which actually come from hand sanitizers) can be thrown out in open areas.
  • Brushing of huge curtains inside a COVID ward can create a spark necessary to ignite a fire. If fire retardant cloth is used as ICU curtains then such sparks can be avoided.
  • Now a days COVID ICUs are consuming too much electricity as summer is approaching at its peak. Ventilators, air conditioners and other medical equipment are being used 24 hours, which has increased the risk of short circuit, which is another common reason behind fire. Such fires often become bigger due to pure oxygen supply in COVID wards.
  • Usually Hospitals need a fire safety certificate, but most of the hospitals lack that kind of preparation. During present pandemic times, when there is huge pressure on medical facilities, hospitals are getting relaxation from these norms. But in some cases this relaxation is becoming fatal. Lack of fire safety infrastructure is resulting into fire accidents in COVID hospitals.
  • Normal wards of hospitals are being converted into COVID wards, where they need oxygen supply, Air Conditioning, Ventilators, Oxygen concentrators and other medical equipment. These normal wards were not previously designed to equip with all these heavy equipment. Heavy electrical load in such wards can easily result in a short circuit.

Shortage of oxygen cylinder in present scenario has made some people to use even the damaged cylinders without knowing the risk they are taking. People can be seen standing in queues outside oxygen plants to get a refill. Some people are even seen smoking while carrying an oxygen cylinder, not knowing that this act can cause a blast and claim lives of other nearby people as well. In this pandemic even old oxygen cylinders are being used, which don't have properly written precautions, and it makes people unaware of the danger.

During COVID19 pandemic people are using the personally purchased oxygen cylinders even in the hospitals, which has increased the danger as these people accompanying their patients are not trained to use oxygen cylinder but today everybody is an expert, and they are even training others for same.

Today you don't need a doctor prescription to buy oxygen cylinder but just a heavy pocket and black-marketers are utilizing this opportunity to its fullest. For a large number of people it is the only way to save their loved ones from COVID19, but they don't know they are playing with fire and in the meanwhile some unfortunate ones have paid the real price.

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