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They play with fire to keep us safe


The Mumbai Fire Brigade stationed outside Mont Blanc building at Kemps Corner. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Mahendra Desai (47)
Station officer, Gowalia Tank fire station
17% Burns

Desai joined the fire forces in 1993. He was part of the rescue operations during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and remembers being at Trident Hotel, saving people from the terrorists. However, this is the first time he has been injured to such an extent. He and his colleagues are all at National Burns Centre, Airoli.


Mahendra Desai. Pics/Sameer Markande

Desai says the water pressure wasn’t enough to reach the floors high up and extinguish the fire quickly. He recalls, “A boy came running behind us, saying that his parents were stuck in the house. We moved forward to rescue them, but we were completely unaware about a cylinder lying nearby. As we inched closer, we could see the flames.

Suddenly, the cylinder exploded and we all inhaled such a large amount of smoke, that going further ahead was out of question.” His wife Mansi, a housewife, is with him (in pic) in the hospital. They have a daughter, who is appearing for her Std XII prelims and their son, who is in Std VIII.

“Thankfully, our children are academically brilliant and understand the fact that their father needs me here. My husband is on 24-hour duty. I completely respect and understand the passion he has for this job,” says Mansi, who has been married for almost two decades now.

Sandeep Kumar Godke (26)
Fireman, Gowalia Tank fire station
19% Burns

All the firemen went ahead in a line when carrying out their operations at Mont Blanc. Godke was third in line. His father too was a fireman and he remembers listening to stories of bravery about how he doused flames and rescued people, which inspired him to join the fire department. “This is not the first time I have been wounded, but this time, I’ve suffered serious injuries.


Sandeep Kumar Godke

A year ago, while dousing a fire in Tardeo, I had to get stitches on my hand. This time, my face has been burnt too,” said Godke, who got married in May this year. His wife Jyoti, a housewife, says that she feared for his life when she heard of this incident. “We’ve recently got married and him sustaining any injuries, will naturally scare me. I hope he recovers soon and I’m really proud of him.”

Sunil Naik (30)
Fireman, Gowalia Tank fire station
27% Burns

Naik is among those who suffered the maximum percentage of burns and is still recuperating in the ICU of the National Burns Centre. Doctors believe he will have to undergo a skin graft procedure.


Sunil Naik

His father Appa Naik, who has been running around to cater to the hospital’s errands and demands for medicines, says he hasn’t had a proper meal since the day of the incident.


Sunil’s father Appa Naik

Says the father, “My son has been in the fire department for a decade now. However, we still fear for his life every time he goes on call. Since he has suffered the most burns, everyone in the family is concerned and hopes he will recover soon.” Naik bore the full blast of the flames when the cylinder exploded as they were approaching it. His wife Surekha is expecting their second child; he already has a one-year-old daughter Saee.

Rajendra Dande (43)
Station officer, Byculla fire station
7% Burns

Dande recounts how he was on the staircase of the 10th floor of the tower when the cylinder burst and a ball of fire hit their faces. “We were climbing up the staircase and if not it were not for our helmet and coat, I would have been burnt very badly. Seeing the chaos below the building, we knew it was a major fire. The cylinder blast was completely unexpected,” says Dande, who suffered burns to both his hands.


Rajendra Dande and his wife Sunita

In all, Dande suffered 7 per cent burns. His wife Sunita, who is by his side, says her husband’s job does not allow him to take good care of his health. Therefore, she takes complete charge of it, whenever possible. “Since he is on a 24-hour shift, there is no fixed time for his lunch or dinner.

I keep in touch with him and request him to come home for food, as and when it’s feasible,” Sunita tells this correspondent. Dande has completed 13 years on the job and recounts a fire at Popalwadi, Bhuleshwar, which occurred just a year after he joined the unit. The number of people he rescued there, he says, cannot be counted.

Kamlakar Waman Karnekar (48)
Fireman, Gowalia Tank fire station
14% Burns

Kamlakar Karnekar (above) is still in the ICU ward of the National Burns Centre, Airoli. His wife Neha and elder son Mandar spend their day waiting outside the ICU. They see him through the glass, for only a few minutes in a day; they’re not allowed inside for fear that Karnekar will contract an infection.


Kamlakar Waman Karnekar

Karnekar is yet another hero among those who rescued people during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. His two sons, Mandar (17) and Tejas (10), are extremely proud to have a father in such a service. His wife Neha tells MiD DAY, “My husband is on an eight-hour duty.


Kamlakar Karnekar’s wife Neha and elder son Mandar

In the past, he has been hurt when glass pieces had pierced him on call. But this time, these are grave injuries. We just completed 18 years of our marriage on December 3. I hope to spend many more happy years with him.”

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