The nation yesterday mourned the deaths of 12 patients who lost their lives in Greater Tainan in the worst hospital fire in the nation’s history.
In all, 12 elderly patients died and more than 70 were injured when a fire, which was suspected to be arson, broke out early yesterday morning at the Beimen Sinying branch of Tainan Hospital.
The fire broke out at about 3:30am and was extinguished by 4:16am, the Greater Tainan Government’s Fire Department said.
Initial investigations showed the fire probably started in an empty ward on the second floor of the building, which specializes in caring for mentally ill patients and chronic disease suffers who are unable to care for themselves.
Firefighters said the heavy casualties were partly the result of most of the patients being seriously ill and unable to move, with some having to rely on machines or tubes to stay alive.
When the fire broke out, many caregivers used pillows or quilts to cover their patients, before taking them out of their wards, firefighters said.
The firefighters also found many floor mops, foam cushions and mattresses piled up in the room where the fire started. Some hospital beds were burned down to their metal frames.
Medical staff said they had evacuated all patients to the plaza outside the hospital and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on those in critical condition.
Because of the large number of injured, most of whom suffered from smoke inhalation, ambulances from neighboring Yunlin and Chiayi counties and Greater Kaohsiung were mobilized to transport the victims to nearby hospitals for emergency treatment.
Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) said the department had formed a task force to handle the response to the emergency. He also ordered all hospitals and nursing homes to conduct fire drills and safety inspections, and report the results to the department within three days.
Greater Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) visited patients injured in the fire at various hospitals.
Health department officials said the Beimen branch’s ward for severe chronic disease sufferers is operated by a contractor.
Later yesterday, police arrested a person on suspicion of starting the fire.
The person was believed to be a patient at the hospital, ETTV cable news channel and other news channels reported.
The local police department and prosecutors’ office declined to comment.
According to officials, the ward’s equipment was relatively old and a further investigation would be needed to determine who should be held accountable for the fire.
The Beimen branch last passed a safety check three years ago and it was scheduled to undergo another safety check yesterday. In the wake of the fire, the department listed the branch as failing the safety check, officials said.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has asked the health department to facilitate emergency arrangements for the patients and explain the handling of the aftermath of the accident, Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) said.
In Taipei, the Taipei City Fire Department and the city’s Department of Health held a joint inspection at Taipei City Hospital’s Zhongxiao branch on the fire fighting equipment, procedures and safety measures.
Taipei City Department of Health Chief Secretary Jiang Yu-mei (姜郁美) said the inspection, which covered the wards, kitchens and a nursing home, found no violations of the regulations.
According to the Medical Care Act (醫療法), hospitals and medical facilities that fail to follow safety regulations can be fined up to NT$50,000, Jiang said.