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Firemen light bonfire, set fire station ablaze

Playing with fire is what Ambadas Padir does for a living. But he did it once too often the 42-year-old fireman and a 26-year-old private security guard are now battling for their lives at the National Burns Centre, Airoli. Around 5.30 am yesterday when most of his colleagues were either in the lavatory or taking a stroll, Padir was manning the watch room (mini control room) at the Sewri fire station. Road-widening work was in progress nearby.

Ambadas Padir
The premises being cleaned after the blaze, in which fireman Ambadas Padir and a private security guard Rajesh Shinde sustained serious burn injuries. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

During wee hours, to get rid of mosquitoes and deal with the dip in temperature, a bonfire is usually made outside the premises. Preliminary inquiries have revealed that at the time Rajesh Shinde was busy preparing a similar pyre in a ghamela (an iron container). Padir asked him to bring the ghamela inside the fire station and keep it near the entrance of the watch room. Since there was a lot of smoke, the duo used petrol to intensify the flames.

Sewri fire station
A bonfire in this metal container kept inside the Sewri fire station got out of hand. Two persons were injured, while computers, telephone lines, wireless sets, diaries etc inside the watch room were damaged. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

The fire got out of hand and both Padir and Shinde were burnt. The blaze even engulfed the watch room, damaging the computers, telephone lines, wireless sets, diaries etc. Padir and Shinde could not step out of the room and rushed towards the window. In this time they had inhaled a lot of smoke. Their cries alerted other firemen on duty, who immediately extinguished the flames, but by then both Padir and Shinde had received burn injuries.

The firemen then alerted the main control room and asked for an ambulance. However, before the vehicle could reach, both men had been moved to KEM hospital in a fire tender. Sewri police had also been informed. Senior department officials rushed to the fire station and later to the hospital, where they learnt that Padir and Shinde were critical. The duo was shifted to the National Burns Centre.

A high-level inquiry has been initiated to establish the exact cause of the mishap. The fire station had become operational again by yesterday evening. “We are praying for the speedy recovery of the injured and have informed their family members. Police have done a panchnama. An internal probe will begin shortly,” said assistant divisional fire officer and Sewri fire station in-charge D S Patil.

Chief fire officer SV Joshi said, “Such an incident has never happened before at a fire station. I will make a comment only after the findings of the probe are out.” When asked about the usage of petrol for fortifying the flames, he got annoyed and said, “I cannot say anything on this. Only the investigating officer can.

However, MV Deshmukh, director of fire and emergency services and advisor to Government of Maharashtra has taken serious cognisance of the incident. “In my 32 years of professional career as a fire officer, I have never come across such a case. When a fireman is involved in an occurrence like this, it is very difficult to say if it is an act of ignorance or negligence.”

Deshmukh has now decided to adopt a two-point plan fire stations across the state will be provided with heaters and mosquito repellants, and bonfires, candles and inflammable materials won’t be allowed inside the premises.

Meanwhile, plastic surgeon and medical director of National Burns Centre Sunil Keswani said, “Padir and Shinde have sustained 80 per cent and 50 per cent burns respectively. Since both are in surgical shock, which they will continue to be in for the next 36 hours, we have not asked about the circumstances that led to the incident.”

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