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For some patients in fatal fire, migrants are lifesavers

2018/08/13 17:51:45

Taipei, Aug. 13 (CNA) Sitting at the bedside of her elderly mother, a weeping woman surnamed Hsieh (謝) offered profuse thanks to Supraph, an Indonesian caregiver, for saving her bedridden mother trapped in a deadly fire at a hospital in New Taipei early Monday.

"My mother would not have survived the fire had it not been for Adi," Hsieh told CNA in the hospital's emergency room, referring to Supraph who has taken care of Hsieh's 92-year-old mother since January.


The fire that reportedly broke out at around 4:30 a.m. in the seventh floor long-term care ward in the Xinzhuang (新莊), New Taipei, branch of Taipei Hospital has left nine people dead and 16 injured -- 10 with serious injuries and six with minor injuries.

"Adi was very brave and kind-hearted. She didn't run for her own life when the fire occurred, and the other migrant caregivers didn't either," Hsieh said. "The patients looked after by migrant caregivers were all safely evacuated."

Family members of patients are not permitted to stay overnight at the nursing ward, putting more responsibility on the migrant caregivers, Hsieh said.

"It's lucky that the migrant caregivers were around. Adi carried my mother on her back to move her from her bed to a wheelchair. She was rescued immediately and did not get hurt," Hsieh said.

According to a woman surnamed Hsu (許), a retired teacher who volunteers once per week to help the patients, the nursing ward that accommodates 32 people has been short-staffed, putting more responsibility on caregivers.

"The ward has up to four nurses working each shift," Hsu said. "The eight migrant caretakers hired individually by some of the patients' families have shouldered a significant portion of the caregiving workload."

The hospital said, however, that there were seven nurses on duty when the fire broke out Monday morning.

After the evacuation, several patients living in the nursing ward were temporarily housed in the hospital's emergency ward, accompanied by their families and social workers, who talked about possible causes of the blaze and the fate of other patients.

Some suspected that an electrical short circuit caused the fire, with Supraph suggesting that the problem may have been with an air mattress.

"The air mattress had a burning smell [before the fire]," she said, relaying what she heard from other caregivers on the floor who were closer to the room where the blaze broke out.

The New Taipei Fire Department later partly confirmed the suspicion, saying that based on its initial findings, faulty wiring in the air mattress likely triggered the blaze, which then spread because the mattresses were flammable.

Supraph told CNA the fire took place a while after the nurses changed the patients' diapers, something they routinely do every night at around 3 a.m.

"When the aunt [the nurse in the room where the fire broke out] was changing diapers, I was also changing grandmother's [Hsieh's mother]. A little while after I finished, I heard some noises outside the room and saw smoke billowing up at the other side of the ward when I opened the door," she said.

Supraph said she and her friends, also caregivers from Indonesia, ran to help the nurse move the patient from the bed that had apparently caught fire, and then she ran back to her "grandmother's" room.

"We were all helping evacuate patients," Supraph said, referring to her fellow Indonesians.

"I was not scared. I knew that I had to rescue grandmother. She was 62 kilograms. I managed to carry her on my back."

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)