Mumbai fire chief Sunil Nesarikar given guard of honour, laid to rest

Chief Fire Officer Sunil Nesarikar, who succumbed to the burn injuries he sustained in the Kalbadevi fire, was given a guard of honour yesterday; the fire department grieves losing their man of action

Mumbai fire brigade bid goodbye to its man of action yesterday. Chief Fire Officer Sunil Nesarikar, who breathed his last on Sunday after sustaining 50 per cent burn injuries in the Kalbadevi blaze, was given a guard of honour and cremated at the Chandanwadi crematorium at noon.

Kalbadevi blaze: Mumbai fire brigade loses its chief

Nesarikar breathed his last on Sunday after sustaining 50 per cent burn injuries in the Kalbadevi blaze
Nesarikar breathed his last on Sunday after sustaining 50 per cent burn injuries in the Kalbadevi blaze

It was a sombre atmosphere at the Byculla fire station, where Nesarikar’s body was brought from his Andheri home at 10 am. His body had been taken to his residence after a post-mortem procedure. The 50-year-old’s wife, Jayashree (50), was in a state of shock and wouldn’t say a word. Relatives had to help her to her feet and take her, slowly, to her martyred husband’s body.

Fire officials carry their chief Sunil Nesarikar’s body to the Chandanwadi crematorium. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
Fire officials carry their chief Sunil Nesarikar’s body to the Chandanwadi crematorium. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

His teenage son, Siddhant, an engineering student, was also unable to comfort himself. Deputy Mayor Alka Kerkar, BMC Leader of the House Trushna Vishwasrao, Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta, former civic chief Sitaram Kunte, and former Additional Commissioner Manisha Mhaiskar were present when Nesarikar was given a guard of honour.

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Sunil Nesarikar’s brother Hemant, and son Siddhant
Sunil Nesarikar’s brother Hemant, and son Siddhant

BJP MLA Ashish Shelar, BJP group leader of BMC Manoj Kotak and Congress group leader Devendra Amberkar were present during the cremation. At 10.40 am, his body was placed in a truck adorned with flowers.

The vehicle was taken to the Chandanwadi crematorium in Marine Lines, with fire engines and several firemen accompanying their chief on his last journey. It was Siddhant who lit his father’s funeral pyre. Nesarikar is survived, apart from his son and wife, his mother.

His brother, Hemant, who lives in Ghana, had first come to the city when he came to know of the fire and had stayed for ten days till Nesarikar had begun showing signs of recovery. In fact, Nesarikar had even requested his family members to bring him CDs of playback singer Mukesh’s songs, so he could listen to them in the hospital.

“I was at the National Burns Centre in Airoli for ten days. When his condition began improving after 10 days, I went back to Ghana. However, yesterday (Sunday), when I heard about his deteriorating health I rushed back,” Hemant told mid-day. By the time Hemant reached India, Nesarikar had breathed his last.

The man
Armed with a BSc degree, Sunil Nesarikar joined the fire brigade department as an assistant station officer in 1989. Always a man of action, according to his colleagues, he was known to take fires head on and would be the first to take stock of the situation and help rein in the fire, no matter how serious.

Having risen through the ranks of the fire brigade, he had doused umpteen fires during the course of his career. On May 9, however, fate had something else in store for him. “Nesarikar was never one to only carry out inspections (as chief fire officer). He would help in dousing the fire as well. He had great knowledge about the technicalities of our work.

Also Read: Mumbai's firemen walk through fire but are treated like dirt

He knew exactly how to tackle a fire taking the wind direction into consideration,” said a fire officer. “We have lost a very important man of our department. There is nothing else we can say,” Prabhat Rahangdale, acting chief fire officer, told mid-day.

His legacy
Nesarikar had made several efforts to procure modern equipment for his department. The fire chief, along with an automobile engineer, had gone to Finland this April for the final testing of a 90-metre tall hydraulic platform ladder. The ladder, on which the civic body will spend approximately Rs 15 crore, is vital to firefighting operations in the city, given its high-rises.

The device is expected to come to Mumbai in the first week of June. “Along with the 90-metre ladder, Nesarikar also aimed at getting two other 80-metre ladders in order to combat fires in Mumbai’s skyscrapers more effectively,” said a fire officer.

Died looking for victims
In a statement given to the L T Marg police during his hospitalisation, late Chief Fire Officer Sunil Nesarikar said he and his three colleagues had gone inside to decide on a plan to rescue anyone still stuck inside Kalbadevi’s Gokul Niwas building, which collapsed on them that fateful night.

“On May 9, 2015, I, along with my team, went to Gokul Niwas, Hanuman galli in Kalbadevi after a fire broke out there. At that place, we were taking stock of the situation and looking for a path to evacuate the building of victims possibly still stuck inside, when a part of the building suddenly collapsed on me. Thus, my colleagues and I got stuck under the burning debris.

Then the firemen pulled us out and admitted to Masina Hospital in Byculla. The doctors there advised the fire brigade to shift us to Airoli, which was done immediately. I have no complaints in the matter,” Nesarikar had told the police in his May 10 statement.

- Tanvi Deshpande

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