After spending the day taking out body after body from the hotel, Station Officer (SO) Rajesh Kumar Shukla from Connaught Place fire station was supposed to take the day off to rest. Instead, he and his colleagues spent Wednesday morning involved in another gruelling exercise — a training session on how to counter situations like the one at Hotel Arpit Palace.
This, amid claims by some that the firemen did not do enough to save people from the burning hotel. “We have been branded villains in the media. We saved 35 lives, risking our own. People should take time out and understand the intrinsic problems we faced. We spent more than two hours on Wednesday, training how to get into inaccessible buildings, carry bodies and strategise. That is acceptable, but expecting us to turn up at the spot like god is unfair,” Shukla said.
Firefighters also spent considerable time discussing if they could have done more. While some of their seniors sought to boost their morale, saying that they managed to save as many people as they could have, the thought of bodies scattered across the hotel played on the minds of many. “Many of the juniors had difficulty trying to stomach what they saw. But I have got used to it,” said a leading fireman.
At the DFS headquarters, senior officers scanned through media interviews to figure out why they were blamed for the death toll. A senior officer, looking at his own interviews, said, “The fire was already burning for some time before they called us into service. It has been a stormy morning for us.”
At Jhansi Road fire station, fire operator Ram Jeevan Meena’s eyes are still swollen and itchy. Most of his colleagues feel nauseous while eating, and instead opt for a diet of jaggery and water. “Jaggery is good for the lungs. I know when I get old, my lungs will give up. This fire just made me older,” Meena said.
Station Officer Avtar Singh said he had to console his daughters when he returned to his barracks. “My team is fine, my daughters are now okay. Magar helpless feel kar raha huun. Kuch sheehshe nahi tod paya jee (I feel helpless, we couldn’t break some windows),” said Singh, speaking about the tempered glass window panes.
Back at the CP fire station, officers long for some rest. “We are on standby duty. We have to maintain vehicles and, sometimes, depute fire tenders for VIP visits. Nobody is getting rest,” an officer said.