A deadly fire broke out early Saturday at a hospital in Rome, killing at least 4 people, forcing an evacuation of the facility, and sending rescue crews scrambling to safely relocate patients.
Blaze Engulfs Top Floor of San Giovanni Hospital
The fire erupted around 4 a.m. Saturday on the third floor of the San Giovanni Addolorata hospital, located in southern Rome near the Appian Way, as per multiple reports including Reuters. Photos and videos circulating on social media showed flames and thick smoke billowing out of the windows on the hospital’s top floor.
Over 80 firefighters worked to battle the raging fire and evacuate patients and staff from the 10-story building. Helicopters were also dispatched to airlift some of the most vulnerable patients, according to Italian news agency ANSA.
In total, about 200 patients were evacuated to safety from the hospital. Some were transported to other nearby medical facilities while others were cared for outside in makeshift triage areas.
4 Dead, Including COVID Patient on Ventilator
At least 4 fatalities have been reported so far, including an 81-year-old woman and a patient who was intubated in the intensive care unit with COVID-19 at the time the fire broke out.
The other two victims were also patients of the hospital, officials said. Their identities have not yet been released.
In addition to the deaths, another six people suffered smoke inhalation but none sustained serious injuries, health authorities reported per The Guardian.
Cause Under Investigation But Electrical Short Suspected
The cause of the fire remains under investigation but early reports point to a possible electrical short circuit located in the room of the female COVID patient who perished.
Smoke and flames then quickly spread through the wing, which houses various medical departments including pulmonology, neurology, and dialysis units.
“There was a lot of smoke and the firefighters got us out very calmly, it could have been much worse,” one hospital worker told reporters, noting the staff’s orderly response prevented further loss of life.
Hospital’s Fire System Malfunctioned, Officials Say
In the wake of the deadly blaze, San Giovanni hospital director Tiziana Frittelli revealed to ANSA that the internal fire prevention system had failed to activate when the flames initially started.
By the time emergency crews responded to automatic alarms, the fire had already grown out of control, complicating evacuation procedures.
Frittelli confirmed that an investigation is underway to determine why safety mechanisms apparently malfunctioned.
Mayor Orders Audit of All Rome Hospitals
Rome Mayor Roberto Gualtieri, who visited the scene Saturday morning, has requested an urgent audit of fire prevention measures at all hospitals across the capital city.
He called the San Giovanni fire a “very serious event” and said reviews of other medical facilities will aim to ensure protective systems are functioning properly to avoid future loss of life.
Hospital Could Remain Closed for 6-12 Months
Given the extensive smoke and fire damage contained to the top floor, hospital authorities estimate San Giovanni could remain partially or fully closed for up to one year during repairs and rebuilding.
The regional councilor for health, Alessio D’Amato, said temporary accommodations will be made to continue serving patients displaced by the blaze and its aftermath. But he acknowledged significant challenges hospital staff will face dealing with reduced capacity for an extended period.
Questions Around Safety Standards Arise
As San Giovanni recovers, the deadly fire has stirred questions around whether lax safety standards at aging Italian hospitals may be putting patients and staff at risk.
Healthcare workers unions say they have raised concerns for years about outdated or poorly maintained equipment in underfunded public facilities like San Giovanni.
“The tragedy could have been avoided,” nurses union NurSind said in a statement reported by The Week. They contend negligence and lack of public health investment failed the victims of this preventable disaster.
Table summarizing key details on the San Giovanni Hospital fire in Rome:
|December 9, 2023
|San Giovanni Addolorata Hospital, Rome, Italy
|Floor of Origin
|Electrical short circuit
|At least 6 smoke inhalation
|Extensive to top floor
|Up to 12 months
The deadly Rome hospital fire has left both grief and outrage in its wake. As loved ones mourn those lost, government and health officials must also answer tough questions around what could have prevented this tragedy.
In the coming weeks, investigations into the blaze will hopefully shed light on where safety measures failed the victims. Reforms spurred by their devastating loss could help ensure such heartbreak is not repeated.
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