“I just want to bring her home,” said Mr Soo Seng Yong. His 37-year-old daughter was one of the six patients whose lives were claimed by the tragic fire at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Hospital Sultanah Aminah (HSA) in Johor Bahru yesterday – a calamity that has left the nation stunned, and mourning for their loss.

“When I last saw her, she was excited to be leaving the ICU the next day,” he said.

It was a heartbreaking scene, with relatives of those who perished in the fire waiting under a tent by the mortuary, while officials called them up in turns to identify the bodies of their loved ones. 

Help extended to victims and families

“While my family was preparing for Deepavali, we lost our eldest daughter,” said K Muniandy, whose daughter was admitted to the hospital following an episode of epilepsy.

“I did not expect a tragic note to her birthday today… my entire family is shattered over her death…we will never forget this,” he said.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam has expressed his condolences to the families of victims, adding that hospital staff have been instructed to offer assistance whenever necessary.

“As an institution that provides healthcare to patients, we’re certainly very saddened by this incident. We’re asking the public not to speculate about the cause of the fire,” he said.

“Efforts to save all patients were made. Since the fire spread too fast, some staff who were on duty suffered from difficulty in breathing and some fainted due to thick smoke,” added the minister.

The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry said that it would provide free counselling services to patients and relatives of victims of the incident. Minister Rohani Abdul Karim added that various agencies and organisations have also offered welfare assistance to those affected by the incident.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency has also flown 60 pints of blood from residents of Tioman Island on a mercy flight to HSA.

Flash floods complicate evacuation process

Following the tragedy, flash floods occurred in the area, causing power outages in hospital facilities and further complicating matters, forcing evacuation of patients to Klinik Kesihatan Mahmoodiah, said the Ministry of Health in a Facebook post. Despite these circumstances, healthcare personnel were seen continuously providing care to those in need.

“Ten (HSA) staff were affected by the fire and three were admitted to the ICU in Sultan Ismail Hospital. The other seven sustained minor injuries and are under close monitoring,” said deputy Health DG Dr Noor Hisham.

The six who perished in the fire were all patients warded in the ICU. The seventh patient was rescued, but is critically ill and admitted to the Burn Unit at Sultan Ismail Hospital.

“Two of our staff nurses and a student physiotherapist tried their very best to evacuate the ventilated patients and, in their attempt, collapsed from inhaling the thick smoke,” said Noor Hisham of the brave staff, who were immediately rescued and sent to Sultan Ismail Hospital (HSI) for treatment.

The unsung heroes worthy of praise

"I grabbed a blanket and wet it before dashing into the ward which was dark and filled with smoke," recounted general surgeon Dr Narendra Balasekaran, who rushed to help with three other doctors; Dr Shah Jahan, Dr Rishi Haran and Dr Ashok Kannan.

When they reached the first patient, they immediately grabbed the bed and wheeled her out.

“The bed was hot and I had to wrap the metal part with my towel,” he said, revealing that he also suffered some minor burns.

"We did our best to save our patients and all the medical staff and nurses did their best and followed the evacuation procedures.”

26-year-old Nur Idayu Jahan, a staff nurse who was preparing equipment for surgery in the operation theatre when a colleague rushed in to inform staff of the fire, also rushed to the scene to offer help.

“We just dropped everything and rushed to help,” she said.

Muhaimin, a house officer from HSA was one of the many healthcare providers who braved the tragedy to help others.

“A lot of House Officer friends and nurses, MA and PPK alike who are on their off days came to the hospital, in their sport attires and helped…I managed to get a break to drink water today after my friend who was post night came and substitute for me. Some came with red eyes and tired faces,” he wrote in a Facebook post thanking the firemen, NGOs and his fellow colleagues including nurses and medical assistants for their selfless help.

“Thank you for showing us good leadership,” he added, praising specialists for managing a chaotic day into an ordered one.

“All our staff worked together as a team to evacuated 477 patients to safety and once again I would like to sincerely thank all of them for their utmost dedication in discharging their duties selflessly in this difficult and sad moment,” added Subramaniam. MIMS

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Six dead, ten injured after fire at Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor