A One-Day-Old; a Family’s First Born: Hopes Lost in Hospital Fire

As ten newborn babies died in a fire at a hospital in Maharashtra’s Bhandara, parents narrate horrors of the night.

Updated
India
5 min read

"I am broken. I do not know what to say, I do not know what I am saying right now..." Vishwanath Behere says looking distraught, hours after cremating his baby girl who was less than two months old and died in the state-run Sick Newborn Care Unit (SNCU) of Bhandara District General Hospital fire in the early hours of Saturday, 9 January.

While the timely intervention and attempts made by security guards, ambulance drivers and the fire brigade saved the lives of seven babies, ten others died. One of them was Behere's daughter.

While Behere entertains questions from the media, his wife Geeta does not utter a word.
While Behere entertains questions from the media, his wife Geeta does not utter a word.
(Photo: Assessed by The Quint)

Charred Beyond Recognition, DNA Tests Confirmed Their Children Died

"I heard about my daughter's news around 4:00 am when I was home. I asked them what was so urgent, they said they cannot tell me anything and that I must come to the government hospital immediately. I went there and saw that many people were there. I asked a couple of people at the site about what happened, they said that there was a fire in the ICU. I was shocked, " he said.

While Behere speaks to the media, sitting next to him on his chair is his wife, Geeta. When the camera pans towards her, she is visibly overwhelmed and unable, unwilling to speak.

Behre moves his hand to his chest as he continues, "I kept telling people that my daughter was in the ICU. Then I asked here and there and everywhere about my daughter. No one told me anything. After sometime, they told us at around 5:30 am that it was all over. We both feel helpless, she was my only daughter, she was my first child."

The hospital was flooded with the relatives of the children, government officials, locals and mediapersons.
The hospital was flooded with the relatives of the children, government officials, locals and mediapersons.
(Photo: Assessed by The Quint)

Behre said that he had to leave work for the last few months in order to take care of her, "Taking care of her for the last few months was priority, I left my work. My brain is not working right now. I had taken so many loans, how to pay it all back when there is no work anywhere."

In most cases, the hospital conducted DNA tests to confirm to the parents that their children, who were burnt beyond recognition in some cases, were dead. Two of those are Vandana Mohan and Yogita Dulse.

‘I Want My Baby Back’

Vandana Mohan says she is not getting enough information about her seven-day-old baby who died. "My baby was born and brought here on 3 January. Her weight was less so we had to keep her here. She was improving since the last two days and had started drinking milk as well. It was all getting better for us. But when we came to know about this incident, we ran to see her at the ICU. All the babies who were brought from outside have died. I am very scared right now."

Like Vandana, other parents have also brought this up. Heart-broken and helpless, they are wondering why is it that their children died but those who are from the area were saved.

Yogita’s child was one-day-old. While she asks for an investigation into why their children died, she also says nothing will bring her daughter back to her.
Yogita’s child was one-day-old. While she asks for an investigation into why their children died, she also says nothing will bring her daughter back to her.
(Photo: Assessed by The Quint)

Yogita Dulse, who lost her one-day-old baby girl said, "They moved us out of our ward early in the morning while we were sleeping. We were being told that the children are fine and nothing had happened to them. It was only after the morning that we were told that our child was dead. They conducted a DNA test and confirmed the same. But why did children who came from outside die? How were the kids who are from here saved? Whoever is responsible for this, an investigation must be conducted but either way, we will not get our daughter back."

Another mother, Sudeshni Dharmapalla, whose daughter was a only twelve days old has been crying and demanding that she see her daughter’s body. "My delivery happened in a different hospital but we shifted her here because she was underweight. She was in the ICU while I was recovering in a room upstairs. I was told at around 2:00 am (9 January) of what had happened. They're saying they will only give my daughter to me after the post-mortem is conducted, I want my baby back," she said.

All the families were given bodies of the ten kids between the afternoon and evening of Saturday, 9 January.

How The Lives of 7 Babies Were Saved

Of the seventeen babies, seven were saved due to the intervention of security guards, a hospital helper and two ambulance drivers,The Indian Express reported.

Sudeshni’s daughter was twelve days old and has been told that her daughter’s body will be given to her after the post mortem is conducted. 
Sudeshni’s daughter was twelve days old and has been told that her daughter’s body will be given to her after the post mortem is conducted. 
(Photo: Assessed by The Quint)

The fire brigade put their life on the line and volunteered to go inside the ICU to save the babies. They went up the ladder and went through a window that the fire brigade team had broken. This is when they came across seven babies who were in an area of the hospital, where there was less smoke. "I picked three babies from the cot with all machines beeping, and handed them to the nurses who were waiting outside the door. They rushed down with the babies. Others also picked babies and handed them over. But there were a few babies in the other section, where there was a lot of smoke and fire. We could not go there,” Dahekar, an ambulance driver who had jumped in to rescue the babies, told The Indian Express. The security guard, Gaurav Repade, said he was near the hospital when he got the alert. He had entered the hospital from the same broken window and saw the fire in the ward, realising that he needed help, he went back to get more people. However when he returned, the entire ward was engulfed in flames. “We tried hard to enter the section where 10 babies were kept separately. But it was impossible for us to breathe. Most of the babies… died because of suffocation,” Repade said.

With regard to the lives of the seven babies, District Civil Surgeon Dr Pramod Khandate said they were stable for now and had been kept in a different ward. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray will be meeting the parents of the children who died. A report by The Indian Express stated that the Sick Neonatal Care Unit had been cleared without a fire audit and that a proposal to install a new fire system had been pending for seven months. While no arrests yet, the CM and Maharashtra’s home minister has ordered a probe into the incident. “The government has ordered a high-level investigation into the incident. Those found responsible for negligence will be strictly punished,” he told media persons.

(With inputs from Om Sapate)

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