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Tainan hospital fire claims 12 lives

Twelve patients were killed in an early morning fire in a Tainan hospital yesterday, the worst-ever hospital fire in Taiwan's history.

The blaze gutted the government-run hospital in a rural part of the southern city, according to fire department officials.

Thirty-seven other patients have been sent to various hospitals for emergency treatment, said Lee Ming-feng, director of the Tainan City Government Fire Department.

The department was informed of a fire at the Beimen Branch of the Department of Health (DOH)-run Sinying Hospital at 3:29 a.m., Lee said, adding that the fire was extinguished in less than an hour at 4:16 a.m.

A total of 115 people — 69 patients with serious chronic diseases and 46 sufferers of mental diseases — were pulled from the fire, Lee said.

Twelve of the patients did not show vital signs when they were rushed to nearby hospitals, according to Lee. The 12 were later confirmed dead.

The Tainan District Prosecutors Office said that autopsies on 11 of the 12 victims showed they suffered smoke inhalation injuries and were suffocated. The Prosecutors Office said they expected the autopsy to confirm suffocation as the cause of death for the remaining victim.

Tainan police found a 69-year-old man with hands blackened by smoke at an empty lot near the hospital yesterday afternoon and took him to the Xuejia Police Precinct for further investigation. The man, surnamed Lin, told police officers during questioning that he was a patient at the hospital suffering from terminal stage cancel. He claimed to have set his shirt, bed sheet and some tissues on fire and tossed them into the room where clothes and mattresses are stored after falling into a foul mood. The police have detained the man as a suspect but have yet to confirm his claim.

Initial investigations show that the fire probably started in an empty ward on the second floor of the Beimen hospital, which specializes in caring for mental patients and chronic disease sufferers who are unable to take care of themselves.

Firefighters said the heavy casualties were partly the result of the fact that many patients were seriously ill and unable to move on their own, with some even having to rely on machines or tubes to stay alive.

When the fire broke out, many foreign caregivers used pillows or quilts to cover their patients before taking them out of their wards, according to firefighters.

The firefighters also found many floor mops and foam cushions or mattresses piled up in the room where the fire started. Some hospital beds were burned down to their metal frames.

Medical staff and nurses said they first evacuated all patients to the plaza outside the hospital and performed CPR 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 Kaohsiung were mobilized to transport the victims to nearby hospitals for emergency treatment.

Survivors and rescuers recalled the chaos during the fire at the Beimen branch.

October 24, 2012    billparkhurst@
This fire should be a wake up call to the government's inspection process for elderly care homes. I have been in several in central Taiwan. All smell terrible from human waste and none have proper heating systems for the winter period. Most of the care is done by foreign helpers while the Taiwanese nurses sit and do paper work. Bedridden patients need better care than what the government is paying for in these hospitals.
October 24, 2012    girldomalogdog@
OMG!
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Firefighters hold a quilt as an impromptu stretcher to carry a victim out of the scorched hospital in Tainan, yesterday. (CNA)

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