Tuanku Ja’afar Hospital Fire Raises Another Safety Concern

Shocking videos show that fire alarms failed during a fire at Tuanku Ja’afar Hospital, leaving staff and patients unaware of the danger. A doctor reveals that staff are untrained to handle fires, and smoking is common near high-risk areas.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 17 – A government hospital in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, was hit by yet another fire yesterday, adding to the growing list of annual fires that have plagued government health facilities. 

The latest incident at Tuanku Ja’afar Hospital (HTJS) has once again exposed the dire need for better safety protocols to prevent such disasters from recurring.

In a statement released last night, Dr Harlina Abdul Rashid, the Negeri Sembilan state health director, confirmed that a fire broke out in the Pharmacy Department of HTJS at approximately 4.05 pm on March 16.

“The hospital security team and hospital staff promptly assisted in controlling the fire while waiting for the arrival of the fire department. The Fire and Rescue Department of Jalan Rahang successfully arrived and extinguished the fire at the incident site.

“No injuries or fatalities involving staff were reported in the incident,” said Dr Harlina.

She added that an investigation into the cause of the fire is currently being conducted by the Fire and Rescue Department.

Videos of the incident shared with CodeBlue suggest that the fire alarms did not go off. A doctor, who had worked at HTJS for several years told CodeBlue, that “even those from the ward didn’t know what happened” and thought it was “haze”.

The doctor, who requested anonymity, noted that the fire broke out in a known high-risk area close to oxygen pipelines. “This is a few metres away from the oxygen pipeline to the OT (operation theatre) and ICU (intensive care unit). It is right beside the ED (emergency department),” said the doctor.

“No fire alarms, no smoke detectors, staff untrained to handle fires, people smoking on the hospital grounds and especially near this place (known hotspot), which is exactly near the oxygen pipelines. Staff don’t know how to operate fire extinguishers. We don’t even know if there were fire extinguishers nearby.”

Established in 1969, HTJS is the oldest hospital in the state. In 2017, a Bernama report revealed that the 1,070-bed facility was in the process of obtaining a fire certificate following a fire outbreak at the Sultanah Aminah Hospital (HSA) in Johor Bahru in 2016 that claimed the lives of six patients. It is unclear if HTJS has since obtained a fire certificate.

The HSA fire in Johor stands as the deadliest hospital fire in Malaysia’s history. It is shocking to note that the declassified findings from an independent inquiry into the incident at the public hospital have yet to be released, nearly seven years after the tragedy.

According to former Health director-general Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman, who served as part of a seven-member independent committee to investigate the 2016 HSA fire disaster, under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 1998 (Act 586), a private hospital’s licence would have been revoked if such a disaster occurred in its facility.

In 2020, another fire broke out at HSA, four years after the deadly incident. As a result, 24 patients had to be evacuated from the Ministry of Health (MOH) hospital; fortunately, no fatalities or severe injuries were reported.

Last September, two public health clinics were hit by fires, with no injuries or casualties reported. On September 21, 2022, the Klinik Kesihatan Desa Sepintas in Sabak Bernam, Selangor, saw 60 per cent of its main building being damaged due to a fire incident. 

Similarly, on September 13, 2022, a fire broke out at Klinik Kesihatan Parit Baru, located in the same area, and destroyed the clinic’s entire outpatient block, including its treatment and emergency rooms, a pharmacy, and lab.

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