A fireman died and 20 other firefighters injured after being trapped inside while attempting to douse a major blaze that broke out on the 21st floor of a 22-storey commercial building in Andheri (West).
Navy and Coast Guard helicopters had to be pressed into service to evacuate the firefighters from the building, called Lotus Business Park.
Though all civilians were evacuated soon after the fire broke out a little before noon, there were dramatic scenes of stranded firefighters clinging precariously to railings and scaffoldings as giant flames leapt menacingly towards them.
“The firemen had gone into the building before the fire spread to the other floors and therefore got stuck inside,” assistant commissioner of police Samadhan Dhanedhar said.
“We got a call around 1.30 pm, informing us that fireman were stranded inside. A Chetak helicopter from the Coast Guard and the Seaking-C from the Navy were sent to the spot by 2.30 pm. Both the helicopters are used in search and rescue missions. While Chetak can rescue seven people at a time, the Seaking-C helicopter can carry 20 people at a time,” said Commander Rahul Sinha, chief defence spokesperson in Mumbai.
As the helicopters approached the site cautiously, two firemen were seen sitting on the scaffolding of the building, waving their hands in a bid to catch the attention of the helicopter.
Despite many attempts by the helicopters to rescue the firefighters who had made it to the terrace of the building, only one of them, Manik Ogale, could be hauled up using a winch. Ogale, a firefighter from the Andheri fire station, was dropped to a nearby ground. “The staircase was clogged and engulfed in flames. It is only after clearing the staircase that the remaining firemen escaped by coming down the building,” deputy chief fire officer Sunil Nesrikar said.
A total of 22 fire engines, 12 water tankers, 12 aerial ladders and nine ambulances were rushed to the spot. The rescue operation, which went on for more than 6 hours, was over by 4 pm.
Fire officials said it was one of the most difficult rescue missions they had undertaken. They got their first shock when they found that the 65-metre-high snorkel they had carried could reach only up to the 15th floor.
The fire system in the building also malfunctioned as it was not well maintained by the owners of the building, Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte said.
The Lotus Business Park houses many offices, including of actors like Hrithik Roshan and Ajay Devgan. Roshan, who owns an office on the 10th floor of the building, was seen talking to police officials during the rescue work.
The firefighter who died was identified as Nitin Baghuram Ivlekar. After being rescued, he was rushed to R N Cooper hospital where he was declared dead. Hospital sources said the 35-year-old firefighter died of severe burns.
Dr Sitaram Gawde, medical superintendent at the hospital, said the other firefighters had suffered minor burns.
The municipal commissioner announced a compensation of Rs 15 lakh for the family of Ivlekar, who is survived his wife and two children.
( With Inputs from Abhisvara Sinha and Tabassum Barnagarwala)