Fireproofing the PGH | Inquirer Opinion

Fireproofing the PGH

/ 04:35 AM April 24, 2024

Once is an accident, twice a coincidence, three times a pattern.

Or so goes the saying that may apply—and not in a good way—to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) that was hit for the second time this year by fire that caused the temporary evacuation of more than a hundred patients and closure of its chronically packed emergency room.The Bureau of Fire Protection said the fire started at 11:16 p.m. at a storage room near the hospital’s emergency department that was being renovated. As usual, electrical issues were cited as the most likely culprit.

“The fire was just small, but the smoke from it caused the evacuation of patients and health-care personnel. All the patients were OK. They were transported by the doctors to other areas of the hospital,” said Fire Supt. Leo Andiso, deputy district fire marshal of BFP-Manila.

Defective electrical wiring

The fire was indeed quickly put out and no one was reported injured. But then the damage has been done, as patients and their companions plus health-care personnel had to be moved, not to mention the impact on the image of the PGH.


As of last count, about 140 patients had been evacuated from the emergency room but they were able to return as soon as the smoke cleared.

One would have thought that the PGH had stepped up its vigilance as only last March 13—during Fire Prevention Month at that—the audio-visual room at the back of Ward 1 also caught fire.The blaze was out in about an hour and a half but not before the PGH had to move 165 patients from four wards, six from the Central Adult and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and another 10 from the Medical Intensive Care Unit. The likely cause? You guessed it: defective electrical wiring.

Largest training hospital

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos then directed BFP National Capital Region regional director Fire Chief Supt. Nahum Tarroza to conduct a “comprehensive electrical system inspection” at the PGH to prevent another fire from happening.

And yet, another fire again hit the PGH that cannot afford any downtime as it is the country’s largest training hospital with 1,100 beds and 400 private beds and serves more than 600,000 patients every year, many of them among the poorest of the poor with PGH their only recourse for treatment.


Which then begs the question among Filipinos’ minds—what is happening to the PGH that it had been hit by fire three times too often?

To recall, PGH was hit by a bigger fire in May 2021 at the height of critical COVID-19 treatment and containment operations. The fire that reached the second alarm took five hours to be contained.


Fire system

Hit then was the operating room sterilization area at the third floor of the hospital, requiring the evacuation of around 100 COVID-19 patients from the central block area to the parking lot plus 35 babies from the neonatal intensive care unit.It took all of three days for the PGH to resume full operation of its COVID-19 wards and by then the country’s primary COVID-19 hospital lost as much as P50 million worth of equipment inside the operating room sanitization area.Then as now, the PGH attributed the fire to faulty electrical wiring or circuit breaker.

Clearly, the PGH should be taken to task for its apparent failure to update its fire system, given that it did get an allocation under the 2024 budget for its fire safety improvement.There should also have been a thorough audit of its premises to see where the vulnerabilities are considering that the hospital is quite old and, by the nature of its operations, have equipment and areas that can be prone to fire.

Slow disbursement of funds

The heat of summer intensified by the El Niño weather phenomenon does not help either, in that the smallest spark can readily ignite and spread like wildfire, as the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 fire that damaged 19 cars in a matter of minutes vividly and painfully illustrate.

The University of the Philippines System, under which the PGH budget falls, had already been called out for slow disbursement of funds, which lawmakers took as justification for the trimming of its 2024 budget to P22.6 billion from P24.3 billion.

It should take this latest fire as a reminder therefore to summon its collective effort to use its budget judiciously and efficiently to put all the necessary improvements in the PGH’s fire system in place.

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So far it has been fortunate this year that the flames have been easily controlled, but the PGH and its patients and personnel and indeed the Filipino people who fund the PGH with their taxes may not be so lucky the next time.


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