On the night of 6 August, a fire broke out in the Viswanathan Chest Hospital—the hospital wing of Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute, a post-graduate medical institution maintained by Delhi University and funded entirely by the ministry of health and family welfare. The hospital caters to patients with chest diseases, and its facilities include an intensive care unit with eight beds, which is situated on the first floor of the hospital. The fire broke out in a server room that was located on the ground floor, directly beneath the intensive care unit. Members of the hospital’s medical staff told me that the smoke had spread to the first floor and into the ICU, in which there were six patients undergoing treatment. At least three of them died that night.
According to the records of the Delhi Fire Service, it received an SOS call from the hospital at 1.48 am on 7 August. The record stated that fire engines from its Roop Nagar fire station, located around two kilometres from the hospital, were dispatched within two minutes. The firefighters left the hospital at 4.35 am, the records note. However, it also notes that there was “no casualty reported.”
The fire service’s records appeared to corroborate the account of a member of hospital’s non-medical staff. Nobody knew exactly when the fire broke out, but according to the staff member, smoke began emanating from the server room a little after 1 am. The server room is a part of the PACS Workstation room—the picture archiving and communication system, which houses the hospital’s medical imaging technology—and was locked at the time, the staffer said. After noticing the smoke, the staffer and a few members of the medical staff tried to break the door down. They were unsuccessful, the staff member told me. “The smoke was not reducing,” the staffer said. “The gallery below”—on the ground floor—“was covered in smoke.” “This is a hospital for respiratory diseases. The patients were facing a lot of difficulties when the smoke began to rise to the first floor,” the staff member added.