In 2020 Blaze, MOH Practiced Lessons From 2016 Sultanah Aminah Hospital Fire

Dr Adham Baba says 46 government hospitals are more than half a century old and face high risk of fire incidents.

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 9 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) said its improved hospital fire safety procedures, following the fatal 2016 fire at Sultanah Aminah Hospital (HSA), had resulted in effective evacuation during another blaze at the Johor Baru hospital this year.

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba told Senator Liew Chin Tong (DAP) in the Dewan Negara that MOH has a second edition of a Fire Action Plan on fire prevention, preparation, and evacuation plans, where public hospitals are told to work with the Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) and concessionaire companies to run fire drills at least once a year, and tabletop fire drills in critical areas like the intensive care unit (ICU).

Dr Adham, who is also Tenggara MP from Johor, said the emergency response team has been strengthened and undergoes training every two months, while the last time HSA did a fire drill was on November 10 last year.

“HSAJB’s preparation could be seen in its quick response time and effective evacuation during the fire incident on June 28, 2020,” Dr Adham said in a September 3 written parliamentary reply to Liew.

Liew had asked the health minister to disclose the investigation report of the June 28 fire incident at the women’s ward of HSA that did not result in casualties. He also asked MOH to state the financial losses from the fire and MOH’s plan to resolve the problem in the interest of safety of hospital staff and the general public.

The fire at HSA last June — this time at another building of the MOH hospital compared to the deadly October 25, 2016 blaze at the south intensive care unit (ICU) — had caused an estimated loss of RM45,000, Dr Adham said.

According to the Fire and Rescue Department’s report on the June 28 fire at HSA’s PP1 women’s ward (left wing), the blaze was an “accident caused by heated wire inside the bed head panel of bed number five, which inflamed other easily flammable material, such as plywood, that was also in the head panel of the bed”.

According to MOH, most government buildings, including hospitals, are old buildings built before specific laws were created, such as the Fire Services Act 1988 and Uniform Building By-Laws 1984.

A fire safety audit conducted in 2016 found that as many as 46 government hospitals or institutions have reached 50 years old and 32 others are from 30 to 49 years old. Dr Adham also stated that the number of hospital assets over ten years old exceeded 50 per cent.

“This shows that health facilities have old buildings and assets, and a high risk of fire. Thus, implementing the annual Fire Safety Audit (FSA) is the MOH’s key performance indicator (KPI) in reducing the risk of fire incidents,” said the minister.

Dr Adham also listed the immediate improvements taken by MOH after HSA’s fire incident in 2016, as below:

  • Conducted fire safety audits with the Fire and Rescue Department.
  • Performed frequent building inspections, and tested electrical installation systems and fire prevention systems.
  • Continued the proactive implementation of yearly fire drill activities, including training on fire extinguisher usage, together with the Fire and Rescue Department.
  • Conducted continuous awareness campaigns to enhance staff commitment towards fire safety.
  • Planned and implemented system repairs and upgrades — for obsolete engineering systems to reduce the risk of fire.

Dr Adham also highlighted the government’s initiative to form a dedicated team to provide a comprehensive approach and effective financing model for the rehabilitation and construction of new hospitals under the 2021 Budget and the 12th Malaysia Plan.

The special taskforce involves the Public Works Department (JKR), the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), Public-Private Partnership Unit (UKAS), the Fire and Rescue Department of Malaysia, MOH and other related agencies.

The fatal 2016 fire at HSA cost the government RM8.9 million, according to an independent investigation led by former Court of Appeal judge Mohd Hishamudin Yunus into the blaze that occurred during Barisan Nasional administration.

The Hishamudin inquiry found that HSA did not have a fire certificate and that none of the South ICU staff had undergone training in fire drills or emergency evacuation, despite four previous fire outbreaks in the ward before the fatal October 2016 blaze.

HSA still does not have a fire certificate, with the Johor Fire and Rescue Department director telling the press last August 3 that the fire certificate applications by HSA and two other government hospitals in the state are expected to be completed by next year.

The Hishamudin inquiry handed its report to the Pakatan Harapan government in June 2018. MOH recently told the Dewan Rakyat that it declassified the report on October 15, 2019, as a state secret.

But the Perikatan Nasional government has yet to publish the findings of the independent investigation; MOH claimed that it was prevented from doing so because of the risk of sub judice from a civil lawsuit that has been filed by the family of one of the fire victims against HSA and the government.

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