12 May 2020 15:03

Five die at St. Petersburg hospital as ventilator catches fire

ST. PETERSBURG. May 12 (Interfax) - Five coronavirus patients have died in a fire at the St. George City Hospital in St. Petersburg, an informed source told Interfax.

"The fire broke out on the sixth floor of the hospital [...]. The hospital is treating coronavirus patients," the source said.

Five patients, all suffering from Covid-19, have died in the fire, he said.

The blaze covered an area of ten square meters, the source said. Rescuers evacuated 150 people from the building.

"The preliminary information available indicates that the patients died from carbon monoxide poisoning," the source said.

The combustion of a medical ventilator may have caused the fire, head of St. Petersburg branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry Alexei Anikin said on Tuesday.

"We have reason to assume that the fire could have occurred due to a ventilator igniting. An inquiry is ongoing," Anikin told journalists.

All five patients killed by the fire were hospitalized in the same hospital unit, he said. "An intensive care unit of five rooms caught fire on the sixth floor of the hospital. There were a total of 20 patients there, all of them bedridden. Fifteen people from that floor were moved to a safe place, but five people were not rescued," Anikin said.

A ventilator caught fire in full view of a doctor in the St. George City Hospital, the hospital's chief physician Valery Strizheletsky told St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov, who arrived at the fire scene.

The ventilator caught fire while a doctor was working in the ward, Strizheletsky said.

A video of the conversation is available on the Telegram channel of St. Petersburg's coronavirus response headquarters.

"The equipment caught fire right before the doctor's eyes," Strizheletsky said.

An industry source told Interfax that the ventilators caught fire because of poor electric wiring. The wiring was strained by the large number of simultaneously running medical equipment, the source said.

"A short circuit could ignite the oxygen mixture in a ventilator, and it doesn't matter whether the ventilator is made in Russia or imported," the source said.

A criminal case has been opened on charges of murder by negligence of two or more people, following the deaths of the patients, the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Investigative Committee said. An investigation is under way.

It is not the first fire accident at Russian hospitals over the past few days. A fire broke out at the Moscow Clinical Hospital No. 50 late on May 9 on an area of 20 square meters.

"The blaze occurred in the intensive care unit. Personal belongings and equipment of a Covid-19 patient caught fire," an informed source told Interfax.

Around 200 people were evacuated.

According to the Interfax source, this hospital unit is also treating coronavirus patients.

"There were approximately 100 coronavirus patients in the unit. The rest are suffering from other diseases," the source said.

A source told Interfax that both cases involved ventilators produced by the same Russian plant.

Meanwhile, Rostec's Concern Radioelectronic Technologies confirmed the delivery of ventilators to St. Petersburg hospitals, the company's spokesperson told Interfax.

"We confirm that ventilators made by the Urals Instrument Engineering Plant were supplied to St. Petersburg under a contract. We have no official information as to which ventilators exactly were installed at the scene of the fire," the spokesperson said.

"Only investigative authorities have the right to report the official cause of the incident," he said.

The Federal Service for Surveillance in Healthcare (Roszdravnadzor) pledged to check the quality and safety of the ventilators operated by the hospitals.

Rostec's Concern Radioelectronic Technologies was designated the sole supplier of ventilators to the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade. It is planned to procure 5,700 ventilators made by the Urals Instrument Engineering Plant. Previously, ventilators made at the plant were delivered to the United States.