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Andheri tower blaze: We'd rather jump than burn to death, say firemen

In a chilling account, a few firefighters recall how strong winds, Lotus Business Park's dysfunctional fire equipment and a sudden shortage of water made fighting the flames and escaping the clutches of death a Herculean task

On Friday morning, when a major fire broke out on the 21st floor of Lotus Business Park on New Link Road in Andheri West, 10 firemen, including SK Bhandgar and Nagesh Gawli, were stranded on the building’s terrace. With strong winds fanning the flames and portions of the glass facade falling off due to the fire’s impact, the only thought that crossed Bhandgar’s and Gawli’s minds was that they would rather jump off the highrise than get charred to death.

Also read: Andheri tower blaze - Building didn't have refuge area or functional hydrants

Lotus Business Park
The gutted remains of a part of Lotus Business Park which caught fire on Friday. Pic/Suresh KK

What exactly happened?
On Friday, the fire broke out at around 9.15 am. Fire engines and water tankers came to the spot instantly. The personnel soon realised that the fire was major and declared a ‘brigade call’ wherein resources from all fire stations across the city had to be brought in. By 1.30 pm, 10 firemen who were on the 21st floor soon realised that the fire was spreading to lower floors and there was no way they could go down. The potent combination of smoke and flames compelled them to escape to the terrace.

Nagesh Gawli
Nagesh Gawli

Prayers the only respite
They stood against a wall on the terrace, facing the wind. Two of the personnel were scared and unable to bear the heat. They jumped on to the ledge adjoining the terrace. When their colleagues, who were trying to douse the fire from below the building, saw them move, they immediately sent them a wireless message stating, ‘Help in progress, also choppers have been asked for your rescue, please hold on for some time.’

SK Bhandgar
SK Bhandgar

The stranded personnel saw this message as a sliver of hope. But the smoke and heat were making it increasingly difficult for them to bear. Forty-four-year-old Bhandgar, a Kurla fire station officer, who is recuperating at National Burns Centre in Airoli told sunday mid-day, “I could only think of jumping. I didn’t want to die in the fire. I have doused several major fire incidents, but this was the most horrific.”

The 21st floor of Lotus Business Park
The 21st floor of Lotus Business Park was gutted in the fire. Pic/Suresh KK

He added that he and his colleagues hid on the terrace as the middle floors of the building were covered with smoke due to lack of proper ventilation inside the tower. But when that too, was engulfed in fire, prayers were the only hope. “When we saw the Coast Guard and Navy choppers, we thought we would be rescued. But since the flames were too high, the pilots were helpless. We felt that it would be impossible for them to rescue us,” he added. Thankfully, it started raining. The 10-minute showers came as a boon.

Also read: Andheri tower blaze - Did building's glass facade fan the flames?

Just two and a half years into the service, Nagesh Gawli feels he has got a new lease of life after yesterday’s incident. The 28-year-old, who is currently recuperating at Cooper Hospital, Juhu, said, “We were about to jump off the building, when the wireless message came in. By the time help came, the fire had already subsided, thanks to the brief spell of rain. I cannot thank God enough for saving me.''

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