KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — Despite multiple fire outbreaks, including one that killed six in 2016 and another blaze last Sunday, Sultanah Aminah Hospital (HSA) still does not have a fire certificate, according to the Fire and Rescue Department.
Azlimin Mat Noor, an assistant senior Bomba commissioner at the fire safety division of the Fire and Rescue Department, said the public hospital in Johor Baru, Johor, applied for a fire certificate after the deadly 2016 blaze, the worst hospital fire in Malaysia’s history.
“They need to get funds. We have already recommended the necessary actions, so it’s still under the hospital management,” Azlimin told CodeBlue yesterday.
When asked what fire safety requirements HSA has yet to fulfill, Azlimin said he couldn’t give details off hand, but stressed that “people must be aware of their own fire safety.”
HSA’s corporate communications unit directed CodeBlue to the hospital director, who did not reply to an email for comment at the time of writing.
A fire broke out last Sunday at the women’s ward located in another building, not the main building of HSA, forcing the evacuation of 24 patients. No deaths or serious injuries were recorded.
The June 28 blaze was the second to strike HSA in almost four years after the October 25, 2016 fire at the South ICU in the main hospital building that claimed the lives of six patients.
According to the declassified findings of an independent inquiry chaired by former Court of Appeal judge Mohd Hishamudin Yunus into the October 25, 2016 fire, the South ICU of the Ministry of Health (MOH) hospital previously suffered fire outbreaks in 2008, 2010, and May and October 14, 2016. Those incidents did not result in deaths.
Health Minister Dr Adham Baba reportedly said Monday that certain allocations have been approved for an MOH review of the electrical rewiring at all public hospitals nationwide to prevent fire outbreaks.
The independent inquiry into the fatal 2016 HSA fire found that MOH rejected HSA’s request in 2010 for a special allocation for electrical rewiring because it was purportedly not considered a priority. Electrical rewiring was only listed high on the Johor state health department’s priority list after the tragedy. It is unknown if HSA has since replaced old wiring.
Safety activist Captain K. Bala, who founded the Malaysian Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, said the onus on a building’s fire safety lies with the Fire and Rescue Department.
“So Bomba should ask this question to themselves — why they allow people to come in and operate the hospital when no certificate was given,” he told CodeBlue.
According to the Hishamudin inquiry, the Fire and Rescue Department knowingly allowed HSA to operate illegally without a fire certificate since the hospital unsuccessfully applied for one in 2002, as fire authorities were reluctant to take action on a government building.
The inquiry found that the public hospital complied with none of 25 fire safety requirements, including the installation of a water sprinkler system.
According to the investigating committee, the Fire and Rescue Department is empowered under the Fire Services Act 1988 to ensure compliance with fire safety regulations. Under Section 28 of the Act, read together with the Fire Services (Designated Premises) Order 1998, hospitals (including government hospitals) are required to have a fire certificate, failing which premise owners are guilty of an offence.
HSA, said the inquiry, is one of the busiest hospitals in Malaysia based on patient load. The main building was constructed between 1938 and 1941, while HSA’s ICU, the first public one in Malaysia, officially opened in 1969.
Bala, however, pointed out that many old buildings have gone through fire safety compliance and audits, stressing: “We cannot bypass safety.”
When asked if improving fire safety necessitated the shutdown of an entire hospital, Bala said certain unsafe building sections could be closed, such as those with obstructed exits or passageways.
“They can do immediate rehab to the problem. Say for example, now, there’s a small fire in the building. But tomorrow, need to resume duty, only the burnt part will be shut down, we won’t shut down the whole hospital.”
Bala did not recommend shutting down HSA entirely pending its fire certificate, especially during the Covid-19 outbreak, pointing out that this would force the transfer of HSA patients to government hospitals in other districts.
“It’s not fair to say immediate shutdown, but they can bring in experts, bring in engineers, discuss with the Institute of Engineers Malaysia,” he said. “They can open a small commission to support this hospital.”
“It’s not time to find fault, it’s time to support.”