San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Are Other Hospitals Prepared for Fires?

SAFETY standards in public hospitalsvary broadly, often in proportion to theirage. Hospitals with aging sections, such asCalderón Guardia and San Juan de Dios,are more vulnerable than newer buildingssuch as the Alajuela Hospital, northwest ofSan José, and the National Children’sHospital, which has sections that rangefrom 10-40 years old.San Juan de Dios is a patchwork ofbuildings, some more than 100 years old,built around open, grassy plazas, and is apotential firetrap.“We are aware we have areas that aresimilar to the one (that burned) in HospitalCalderón, and we have wooden structures,as well,” Assistant Hospital Director MarioArias told The Tico Times.Some sections are vulnerable, with nosmoke or heat detectors and no ramps.However, there are fire extinguishers andpartial emergency lighting in every area;the electric system was partially overhauledlast year and should be completelyupdated by next year, Arias said.THREE hundred patients are hospitalizedin the oldest section of the building,where there are no fire safety measuresin place – but, unlike CalderónGuardia, San Juan does not have bed-riddenpatients on floors that are accessibleonly by stairs.“After this fire, we have a reactionaryattitude and will focus on more alarms,signs, stairs and ramps,” he said. “Onelearns from the mistakes of others.”Neither Aníbal Arocemena nor hiswife, Laura Howell, a patient at the hospital,had much confidence in the building.“This hospital isn’t safe. It’s very oldand very dangerous, and the service isbad,” Arocemena said.In terms of safety, it has been lappedseveral times by the private HospitalClínica Bíblica, for example, which hasits own full-time firefighters and emergencycrew.“WE have focused on prevention,”Andrés Alvarado, Clínica Bíblica’s coordinatorof occupational and environmentalhealth, told The Tico Times. “We have certainresources and have been implementingsafety measures over the years.”The hospital is protected with internalfire hoses, emergency lighting, stairs,alarms, heat detectors, well-marked emergencyexits, maps, more than 100 extinguishersand other safety devices.The National Children’s Hospital isexemplary among public hospitals andmore closely resembles the Bíblica thanSan Juan de Dios. Its wide hallways andwards stocked with top-of-the-line medicalequipment are protected with earthquake resistantwalls, water hoses, alarms, heatsensors, ramps to all floors, clearly markedstairwells and emergency exits, more than200 fire extinguishers and a staff trained inemergency procedures.“AFTER (Tuesday’s) fire, we’ve beenmotivated to update certain areas,”Children’s Hospital Assistant DirectorOrlando Urroz told The Tico Times. Heplans to focus on better staff training andexploring an agreement with the Japanesegovernment that would fund safety improvementsalready in the works, he said.Carmen Venegas, whose 8-year-oldniece is a patient at the Children’sHospital, trusts that the building is safe.“This is very safe. The ones that haveproblems are San Juan de Dios and theprovincial hospitals. The problem is theirstructures are all wood. They’re old, so a fireis dangerous,” she told The Tico Times.THE VICTIMSOF the 19 confirmed victims, the bodiesof 18 had been identified and turnedover to their families at press time.Patients:• Alfonso Hidalgo, 82, retired teacherand community leader• Antonio Barquero, 90, trumpeter,Librería Lehmann salesman andfather of four• Rodolfo Arguedas, 56, father of four,suffered from a brain tumor• Anabelio Agüero, 49, mason, soccertrainer• Alfonso Pérez, 16, captain of theNational Under-17 Basketball Team• Gilberto Morales, 45, farmer• Raúl Madrigal, 69, father of seven• Rigoberto Mora, 64, security guard• Rafael Ángel Solano, 64, farmer• Orlando Segura Guzmán, 33• José Gutiérrez, 45• Rónald Vega, 65• Asdrúbal Vindas, 52• Francisco Jirón, 17• Juan Carlos Suárez, 14Hospital Staff:• Patricia Fallas, 42, nurse supervisor• Mayra Mercado, 44, nurse• María Elena Díaz, 46, assistantnurseSource: Al Día and La Nación.

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