Last week, a fire broke out in the Elderly Nursing Home of the Balıklı Rum Hospital, right next to our University. I don’t know what news you have read in newspapers, but let me tell you what happened as a person who have witnessed the fire first hand:
After the conclusion of my conference at the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly that morning, I was on my way to the real estate agent’s office for an appointment. As you know, I have been quite busy with looking for a rental house lately. But then I have received a message from the real estate agent, telling me that the appointment was cancelled. Although I don’t like last minute cancellations, I was also glad to hear that I did not have to go to the appointment since this could be an opportunity for me to wrap things up at the university, such as reviewing the notes I had prepared for the live broadcast where I would be promoting Topkapı University at 14:30 that day. Now I come to think of it, this cancellation saved many lives.
While entering Kazlıçeşme Campus, a thick smoke caught my attention. The Elderly Nursing Home at the Balıklı Rum Hospital right next to Topkapı University was on fire. Since the building had a wooden roof, I immediately thought of calling the fire department. One of the parents who came to the open days was standing in front of the door. I asked him:
- Has anyone called the fire department?
- Someone must have called them.
The first lesson we should draw from this situation is this: Others might have thought the same thing, yet no one might have called the fire department. Therefore, without further dilly dallying, I rang the Istanbul Fire Department to ask for urgent help. “We’re sending our teams,” they replied. At that moment, the flames started to spread even more and faster. Arif Küme, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, said to me, “You stay here, we are going to help!” and ran towards the building with a couple of members of our staff.
However, realising that they would not be able to evacuate the patients inside the building on time; students, administrative staff, faculty members and I have also rushed off to help Küme. Inside, we heard the helpless cries of both the patients and the helpers. Since the back door, which we managed to break the lock with a stone, was not designed for emergency evacuation, we had to take the patients out in wheelchairs using some superhuman effort. Due to the scarce number of wheelchairs, we had to seat every patient we evacuated on ordinary chairs or stools that we brought from inside. It was a difficult and complicated yet fast rescue operation. Allow me to sincerely thank professors and students from our first and emergency aid programme for their knowledge and efforts to help save these people from the fire.
Finally, when we looked inside one more time to make sure whether there was any other patient or person in the building, a big hole opened in the roof with a bang. We had move quickly to drive everyone to safety before the roof collapsed. All of this happened in approximately 20 minutes. A quite speedy rescue, I should say.
Importance of Emergency Response Training
As for the building, unfortunately, the roof was completely burned, and the interior was quite damaged as well. The next day, we visited the hospital administrators to extend our get well wishes. We were all happy to learn that there were no casualties or injuries. And the reasons for this were:
- The wind was blowing the opposite direction
- Timely and effective response
- The fact that the campus was filled with people (students, teachers, visitors) due to open days
- Lucky timing
If the wind was blowing towards the spot we were standing, we would not be able to enter the building through the flames. The fact that the rest of us rushed into the building to help the Vice Chair of our Board of Trustees helped avert a major disaster. However, it was pure luck that our campus was welcoming so many visitors that day, who one way or another contributed to rescue the patients. And the fact that we got out before the roof collapsed can only be explained by kismet.
Unfortunately, the fire brigade arrived a bit late. Yes, the building had an emergency exit plan, but it remained on paper only when the emergency incident actually occurred. I must say that the patient evacuation was successful as it was performed under the supervision of our first and emergency aid professors. Around 60 patients were brought to safety in almost 20 minutes. The fire brigade, on the other hand, arrived seven minutes after the evacuation, and it took another three minutes for the extinguishing process to start.
Here’s what I learned from this incident: It is absolutely essential to provide emergency response training to the staff and to determine beforehand who will lead in such situations. It is also necessary to carry out routine emergency drills. We, as Topkapı University, conduct workplace emergency drills at regular intervals. You should do it too.
Nothing can replace human life, and nothing can bring back the lost lives.