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6 : HOSPITAL FIRE AT MARSABIT

There are a few incidents which occurred during my bachelor days in Marsabit which I would like to share with the reader. These are not narrated in any particular order but merely as I can recall them now. I would like to begin with the fire at Marsabit hospital.

One evening when Victor Fernandes and I were relaxing at his house, listening to some of his record collection, his Meru cook Simeon came up to us and enquired in a rather nervous and terrified manner — whether we hadn’t heard the bugle sound the alarm. The answer was quite simple — we hadn’t. A fire had apparently broken out and the whole of the hospital store was ablaze. Victor and I lost no time in rushing to the scene. Most of the Government employees were there — police, hospital staff and even the traders; there was one man I couldn’t see however, and this was the African Hospital Assistant i/c. It was certainly a case of ‘all hands to the pumps’; people were working desperately to extinguish the flames. We had no fire-fighting equipment. All I could see were buckets of water and some earth (I don’t think we had any sand) being thrown at the flames. There was confusion with people running in all directions. In a flash, I heard an explosion come from the direction of the hospital store. The next thing I knew was that the Hospital Assistant, a stocky man from the Coast Province, was lying by the grass verge outside the store, groaning. I rushed to see how he was only to discover that he was very badly burnt, some of his skin peeling openly. With the help of two of the hospital staff who were around, we managed to move the assistant well away from the fire. I stayed with him for some time, offering what comfort I could.

Although the store was on fire, the main hospital area had escaped the blaze. The DC and Supt. of Police had also now arrived on the scene, and the Hospital Assistant was moved to a bed inside the hospital. The fire which was confined to the store had at last been brought under control. From supplies available at the hospital, the senior dresser tended to the Hospital Assistant’s burns. It was decided that owing to the lack of adequate facilities at Marsabit, the hospital Assistant would have to be flown out to Nairobi or Nyeri, and the DC assumed responsibility for making the necessary arrangements. After satisfying ourselves that all was reasonably well with the assistant, and that the fire was completely extinguished, we all returned home. I could not help feeling that it was a miracle that we had survived the blaze, and we were all pleased that the fire had not spread further. A report of the incident was sent to the PC, the DMS (Director of Medical Services) and the PMO (Provincial Medical Officer). It was quite late the following morning when the plane arrived to evacuate last night’s casualty to Nyeri hospital. The hospital Asst. remained there for some four weeks and on discharge was given compassionate leave to spend a few days with his family in his home district. Meanwhile, on the recommendation of the DC, a strong case was put forward to the DMS for some form of compensation for this dedicated official, who had in fact risked his life in the execution of his duties. While I cannot recollect the actual amount he was paid, I know that in addition to the compensation of some Shs.400/- he also received a letter of commendation from the Director of Medical Services.