Sixteen hours of work, four hours of commute, and four hours of sleep: this has been the gruelling daily routine for 48-year-old Sarjirao Shenvi for the past three months: the arduous cycle came to an abrupt end when the fireman succumbed to a heart attack at 7.40 am last morning, while training with his colleagues.
When Sarjirao’s wife Savita bid him goodbye at 5 am yesterday, she had no idea that it would be her final farewell. A resident of Panvel, Sarjirao was a fireman who has been on the rolls of the Mumbai Fire brigade for the past 19 years. For the past three months, he had been working unnaturally long hours as he was undergoing mandatory training, which would make him eligible for promotion.
The training programme would take place for eight hours, which was followed by eight hours of duty. His commutes back and forth from Panvel would claim four hours of his time, leaving him with just four hours for sleep. Sarjirao’s family members said that this exertion would leave him thoroughly exhausted. The stint, which involved different kinds of physical exercises and running, was scheduled to end on October 13, but Sarjirao’s heart gave way with just four days to go.
Savita said, “He left home at 5 am every day without breakfast. I asked him to wait, but he said he was getting late and left, so I helplessly waved bye. I kept complaining that he didn’t give me time, and he left me forever. He never complained about any health issues but kept telling me about the difficult physical exertions he had to undergo at his age. He was counting days till the completion of the training programme and so was I.”
Another relative of Sarjirao, Siddharth Chandramore, said, “How can the fire brigade not check the physical condition of firemen before asking them to undergo such training? Every person is not completely fit, especially those who have crossed a certain age. My sister has lost her husband and my nephews their father. Is the fire brigade going to hold itself responsible for this?”
SH Nesarikar, deputy chief fire officer who is also in charge of the training programme, said, “Sarjirao trained under me in the initial days of his career, and I have known him for a long time. He was eligible for promotion, or at least a big salary hike on par with that of a leading fireman, with effect from October.”
Responding to the allegations made by Sarjirao’s family members, he said, “We do not conduct health checkups before training, as officers are considered fit if they are reporting for duty. This is part of the everyday duties of a fire officer.”
Duty or routine?
There was an altercation between the grieving family members and the fire brigade officers when the latter revealed that they would not be treating Sarjirao’s death as one that had occurred on duty, as he had been in training. Infuriated, family members demanded that a pity case be filed and asked the fire officers present at Sion hospital to give it to them in writing that they would consider the incident as an accident on duty, which in turn would make Sarjirao’s family eligible for compensation. The family members refused to claim Sarjirao’s body till the fire brigade confirmed that this would be done. The body was not claimed till 7.30 pm. The fire officers present at the spot however said that though they would try, they could not offer any assurances.
Asked to comment on the matter, Nesarikar, said, “We cannot give anything in writing and the special benefits are only offered when firemen die fighting fire. Training is considered as a routine task. We are not in a position to give anything in writing as of now, but we will surely consider this case and give his family the necessary compensation.”