Without thinking twice about their own lives, these five men rushed into the flames to save more than 20 trapped residents of Lake Homes society in Powai on Saturday night; unfortunately, they could not make it out alive
While the city’s apathy is well known and reports abound of bystanders merely looking on and refusing to help people in cases of accidents or assaults, every once in a while some Mumbaikars display a rare form of courage and selflessness that rekindles one’s faith in humanity.
It was precisely that kind of bravery that was on display on Saturday, after a fire broke out in the Lake Homes society in Powai, when at least six people made several trips inside the burning high-rise to rescue trapped residents. Five of the men most of whom were migrants to the city paid the ultimate price for their courage, however, and were among the seven who lost their lives in the blaze.
Rescue personnel at the scene of the fire that took place on Saturday evening at the Powai building. Pic/AFP
Four of the bravehearts died of suffocation after getting trapped in elevators, which came to a standstill after someone switched off the main power supply to the building, and one was found dead in the building’s corridors. Members of Lake Homes society are collecting funds for the families of three of the deceased, who were employees in the building.
‘Didn’t think twice’
The fire, which broke out around 5.23 pm on the 14th floor of the B Wing, allegedly due to a short circuit in the air conditioner unit in flat number 1403/04, spread quickly. And, before the fire brigade could reach the spot, the brave men rushed to the rescue of the residents.
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Tausif Shaikh (25) a social worker and father of three, was amongst the first ones to begin the rescue work, along with Babu Lohar (25), a driver working for one of the flat owners from the 15th floor. One of Lohar’s friends, Shyam Pandey, told mid-day that the duo saved 10 to 11 people in two trips and got stuck in two separate elevators in their third attempt.
They had taken the stairs in the first trip and opted for the elevators from then on because they thought it would help rescue people faster. “Lohar thought that his sister, who works as a domestic help in a flat on the 19th floor was in the building and he didn’t think twice before rushing to save her and the building’s residents.
After he had rescued the first batch of people, his sister met him downstairs and he heaved a sigh of relief. Then, he shifted his focus to the family that he used to work for. He was heading up to the 15th floor when he got trapped in an elevator alone and lost his life,” said Pandey.
Lohar is survived by his ailing parents and his wife. He had got married a year ago and planned to have children soon. Tausif, whom mid-day had reported about yesterday (‘Man loses life after saving 6 people from Powai building blaze’) also died after being trapped in an elevator and is survived by his wife and three children.
‘Proud of him’
Hiralal Gupta (35), a security guard of the building, was also in the same elevator as Tausif. Originally from Uttar Pradesh, Gupta was a resident of the Swami Narayan Nagar slums near the building, where he stayed with his brother Jawaharlal. Gupta had saved around four to five people in his first trip inside the burning building and had decided to take the elevator for the second trip.
Devidas Lende, human resources manager of Frontline Guards, the security agency Gupta was working for, said the company is proud of its employee and will offer compensation to his family. “Gupta’s family, including his four children and wife, stay in a village in UP and they depended on him. Hence, we will give them the highest possible compensation, apart from his provident fund and ESIC (Employee’s State Insurance Corporation) amount,” said Lende.
Pradeep Sarkar (22) and Ankush Sutar (40) were electricians hired by the society. While Sutar used to stay in the servant quarters of the building, Sarkar stayed in a locality in the neighbourhood. The duo rushed to rescue people when they noticed the fire. While Sarkar was found dead in the same elevator as Tausif and Gupta, Sutar’s body was found in the corridor on the 14th floor.
Sutar, who is originally from Vidarbha, had been working as an electrician for four years and Sarkar was about to go to his native place, Siliguri in West Bengal, to discuss his marriage plans. “He had bought new clothes and was exited to go to his native place. The family was discussing his marriage plans and they had decided to get him married by the end of the year,” said Pramod Kumar Saket (22), Sarkar’s roommate.
Ashwan Bhatia (58), a resident of the 19th floor, and Kajal Soni (41), the daughter of a 16th floor resident were the other two deceased. Soni had rushed to the upper floors when the fire broke out and her body was found from the 19th floor. Twenty-six people were injured in the incident.
'Who shut off power?'
One person’s apparently well-intentioned act of switching off the main power supply to the building in Powai’s Lake Homes society cost four of the bravehearts their lives, fire brigade officials told mid-day yesterday.
They said that they plan to ask the police to identify and prosecute the person, whose action led to the four men getting trapped in the elevators and dying of suffocation. “The main power supply was switched off even before we could reach the spot.
Only the fire brigade can switch off the power supply, if needed, in cases of fire, which we do after making sure that the elevators have no people inside,” said an officer from the fire brigade, adding that the police will be notified of the breach.
Parked vehicles delayed rescue
While a call to the fire brigade was made immediately after the fire broke out at 5.23 pm, the fire brigade took around 20 minutes to cover a distance that should not have taken them more than 10 minutes.
Acting Chief Fire Officer P S Rahangdale said, “Vehicles were parked on both sides of the narrow lane which leads to the society’s entrance, which left no space for fire engines to enter.”
Rahangdale also issued an appeal to citizens to refrain from parking their vehicles in lanes leading to building entrances, or at least move them in case of emergencies.
“We have also noticed that people tend to rush to the higher floors in cases of fire, which is wrong because the smoke rises up. People should head to the lower floors,” he said.
Sparks from AC fell on magazines
The fire reportedly broke out because sparks began flying out of an air-conditioner following a short circuit in flat 1403/04 of the building. There were three people in the house at that point. A fire officer said, “Sundara Raj Venkateshan, the flat-owner, her son and her friend were inside the house when the incident took place.
Venkateshan informed the security guards about this and immediately went downstairs with her friend. Her son, on the other hand, went to the neighbour’s house, flat number 1405/06 and locked the door behind him.
He and the neighbours were rescued later.” Some of the sparks, meanwhile, came in contact with a few magazines kept on a table below the air-conditioner, triggering the fire.
Notice to society over open duct
The fire department is set to issue a notice to the Lake Homes society over the electricity duct being open on three or four floors, including the 14th floor, which led to the smoke spreading throughout the building.
“The duct, which is adjacent to the lift and is supposed to be kept shut, was open due to which the smoke spread throughout the building, leading to people being suffocated,” said a fire official.
He added that the fire-fighting equipment of the building was working properly, which helped the fire-fighters a lot in battling the blaze.
Pramod Saket, who works as a water connection technician in an adjacent building, had also rushed to the spot and managed to save a 40-year-old resident. He suffered minor injuries to his hands and face in the process.
“I saved someone from getting hurt and managed to make it out myself. I was shocked when I came to know that Sarkar, who had been missing for hours, was among those who had lost their lives after being trapped in lifts,” said Saket.
- Sachin Unhalekar