Dec 6, 2008
It’s not easy to be a fireman in Mumbai. It’s a complex city with unpredictable traffic and narrow roads at many places making it difficult for fire tenders to reach on time. And even when they do, an already chagrined public vents out all their anger on those who have managed to reach to their rescue. Incidents of an over eager public dismantling rescue equipment on their own in a bid to speed up the process abound in cases of building collapses. Then there are the residential apartments which serve as storerooms for inflammable chemicals, the unauthorized constructions blocking approach roads, blatant disregard of building permission rules and many other cases of negligence which ultimately lead to a fire or a building collapse. And its not just building collapses and fires that these firemen are called to tackle. Some of the most frequent calls are for rescuing trapped animals, crows trapped at some trees near electric wires, cats trapped in locked homes, leopards creating havoc in the neighbourhood. But never before had these firemen faced anything like 26/11.
It was a marathon 60-hour fire fighting operation. And while the security forces had arms and protective vests (whether the vests were effective or not is another question altogether); these fire-fighters had no such protection. “Whenever we entered the corridors looking for hostages, we used to be very vigilant, there was always the fear that a bullet might find its way to us. But we couldn’t stop doing our work out of fear, could we?” said a leading fire officer of one of the teams. “Hamara toh kaam hi aisa hai, protection ho ya na ho hamko jaise hi orders milte hain ham kuch sochte nahin hain aur kaam mein lag jaate hain,” said another fireman. On the first night itself, the firemen managed to rescue close to 300 hostages from the Taj and the Oberoi.
Ask them about whether their families were worried and most of the firemen start smiling. “Nahi madam, unko pata hai ki ham log late ho jaate hain. Isliye voh log phone bhi nahin karte hain. Jaante hai ki kaam mein phanse hain. Lekin voh log poora time TV dekh rahe the.” Though their families of course were relieved to see them back home after the operations.
The firemen tell stories of foreign nationals hugging them in gratitude. Some clicked pictures with them. The German consulate went one step further and presented the fire department with excellent German wine and a radio transmitter set as a token of gratitude. The firemen are only too happy to be of service. Like one of them said, “Aisa khatarnaak kaam to hamne is se pehle nahin kiya. Par dil ko bahut tasalli hui ki kareeb 700 logon ko bacha paaye.” Hats off to the spirit of Mumbai’s firemen!