Mont Blanc rescuers were 26/11 heroes too

Mahendra Desai and Kamlakar Waman Karnekar seem to have a knack for being at the thick of action. The two men, part of the team of firemen whose heroic work saved many lives at the Mont Blanc apartment, which caught fire on Friday -- had also rushed to the Taj Mahal hotel in Colaba on the night of 26/11 when terror struck in the hear of Mumbai.

Mahendra Desai before the blaze injured him

The two, who won bravery medals for their selfless work during the Mumbai terror attack, once again proved their worth by rescuing many people before a cylinder explosion severely injuredthem.

His wife, Mansi Desai (in green), Neha Karnekar, wife of Kamlakar Waman Karnekar and his son, Mandar Karnekar (middle) wait at the National Burns Centre at Airoli. Pics/Richa Pinto

Recuperating along with three other colleagues who also received burn injuries in the blaze that engulfed the 26-storied Mont Blanc apartment at Kemps Corner late on Friday, the duo have already told their family members not to panic and that they will be back in action soon.

Desai and Karnekar were rushed to the National Burns Centre in Airoli for treatment on Friday night after receiving serious burn injuries in action. Their family members told SUNDAY MiD DAY that they were not so worried as the two of them had faced death in the eye during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and received accolades for the same.

The fire at Mont Blanc broke out at 7.15 pm on Friday. At least seven people died in the fire. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Desai, 47, a fire station officer at Gwalior Tank suffered 17 per cent burns on a portion of his face, hands and shoulder while Karnekar, 48, a fireman from the same station suffered 14 per cent burns on his hands, face and chest. Mansi Desai, wife of Mahendra, said, “He has been a fireman for 20 years and this is the first time my husband has been injured and suffered burns to such an extent.

Even while he was at Taj Mahal Hotel during the Mumbai terror attacks I was worried. Every time he rushes to douse a big fire I am tense. But even during 26/11 thankfully he did not suffer any major injuries and was awarded for his bravery. I met him last night after he was rushed here and I am hoping he will recover soon. He asked me not to panic so that the other family members do not get worried.”

Meanwhile Neha Karnekar wife of Kamlakar Karnekar, who suffered burns on his hands and chest, said her husband has been in this profession for 23 years and she has seen him go through even tougher challenges like the Mumbai terror attacks. “At that time however, he was awarded and we all felt proud for him. During 26/11 he was present at Taj Mahal Hotel before rushing to Oberoi and finally to Nariman House. There were explosions taking place at every place and I was worried about his life. Thankfully nothing happened to him. I hope he will recover soon now. I spoke to him while they were dressing his wounds last night and he asked me not to worry,” said Karnekar who was accompanied to the hospital by her elder son Mandar.

The two menm along with three other colleagues, were rushing up the stairway of Mont Blanc when a cyclinder burst, and a fireball hit them smack on the face. According to the firemen, the smoke, which engulfed them made things difficult and braving their serious injuries they rushed down before collapsing on the ground.

The other three firemen who were injured in the fire and rushed to the hospital included Byculla station officer Rajendra Dhande, 43, who suffered 7 per cent burns, fireman Sandeep Kumar Godke, 26, from Gwalior Tank who suffered 19 per cent burns and fireman Sunil Naik from Gwalior Tank fire station. Naik is under observation as he suffered 27 per cent burns. All the injured firemen were brought to the hospital in Navi Mumbai on Friday night in an ambulance from Breach Candy hospital.

Appa Naik, whose son Sunil suffered the maximum burns, saidhe was worried for him. “This is the first time in his decade-long career that such an incident has happened. We are all hoping he would recover soon,” the senior Naik said Dr Sunil Keshwani, medical director of the National Burns Centre, said all the men had inhaled smoke and faced extreme heat, following the cylinder explosion. “On arrival they were initially rushed to the ICU. While two of them are still recovering in the ICU, three others have been shifted to the general ward. It should take them close to three weeks to recover,” said Dr Keshwani.

When contacted, Sunil Nesrikar, deputy chief fire officer, said that the cylinder explosion affected most firemen and officers who were making their way to rescue the residents. “The cylinder blast led to a ball of fire coming straight at our men. However their condition is improving now and they should recover soon,” said Nesrikar. 

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