A frantic phone call from the owner of the food grain factory to the former quality control manager was the first time when word got out about the mishap. Two workers had fallen unconscious when they inhaled poisonous gases while trying to clean a grain silo.
Imammudin, the manager, who is also related to the two men, was told that his relatives were trapped inside the silo. “I told them to pump out the air with a high-powered fan. When that failed, I advised them to drill their way into the silo,” he said.
For over 30 minutes, workers at the factory tried to rescue the men. When all efforts failed, two of them ran to Keshavpuram fire station and informed firefighters.
Messages were relayed to Moti Nagar fire station as well, where the Additional Divisional Officer, Ashok Kumar Jaiswal, sent four fire tenders, packed with breathing apparatus sets, sledge hammers and lights, to the spot. An ambulance was also dispatched to the factory.
However, the oxygen cylinders which could have saved the two men’s lives could never be used as they got stuck in the narrow opening of the grain silo.
“When we reached the factory, the workers had fled. The ones who called us said they spent at least 30 minutes trying to rescue them. We did not have much time and our oxygen cylinders could not get inside the silo,” Jaiswal said.
They spent the next one hour widening the silo’s opening with sledge hammers and a hydraulic rod. When that too failed, one fire operator tried to enter wearing a handkerchief.
He, however, started to lose consciousness after going a little way in and was asked by Jaiswal to come out. Then, firefighters spotted the oxygen cylinders in the ambulance. “They were small and fit through the opening… But it was too late… they died despite all our efforts,” Jaiswal said.
The Delhi Fire Services and police claimed that the factory did not adhere to safety measures — there was no oxygen cylinder, or any personal safety equipment at the unit. Firefighters were also hampered by heavy machinery that blocked passageways.