Even before authorities arrived at Takshshila Arcade in Surat, where a massive fire killed at least 20 students, some brave-hearts were the first to offer help and aid in the rather risky situation. Ketan Chodvadiya, for one, risked his own life to save others.
Ketan courageously climbed up the burning building to help students stuck on the top floor of the Takshshila arcade climb down.
On Friday, Ketan was on his way home when he saw the fire and decided to stop and help the students. He first went to the rear end where the fire had actually started and pulled out younger kids, who he saw crying for help. He then went to the front where he climbed till the second floor with the help of a ladder and began helping students by easing their fall from the smoke engulfed complex. The training to not fear heights seems to have come from his father’s ‘curfew’ hour clamped at home, which forced him to “climb” into the house if late, he jokes.
“Saving people’s life is a duty and as a human I believe that I will do it any day without any fear. When I reached there, I saw smoke and fire. Around 300 people had gathered there but the fire brigade was yet to arrive. I first went to the rear side where I saw children stuck. I took help of a ladder and pulled out as many of them I could. I then went to the front side. I climbed to the spot where I was seen in the video with the help of a ladder. One student fell down and I couldn’t catch her. I could see her lying dead and I can’t forget the sight and I will always regret that I couldn’t save her, but I am happy I could help around eight to ten students escape,” Ketan said.
His family says they didn’t fear anything when they got to know that their son had risked his life to save the students because he has been a ‘daredevil’.
His father, Naranbhai said, “I have a rule that everybody should come home before 10:30 pm, but he is young and at times comes home late. I lock the door after 10 and don’t open it at all. But he climbs up the two-storeyed bungalow and enters through the gallery. He is skilled that way and we are proud of him.”
A B.Com graduate, Ketan is now helping his father at his factory in Kamrej which produces disposable wares used in dining. This is not the first time when he has been a ‘hero’ in a moment of crisis. “As an eight-year-old, when floods had hit Surat (2006), he had also helped us pack and distribute food packets as relief items for those in need. There was no water in our society so we would step out to help others and he would always accompany us,” his father recalls.
Not just Ketan, many from nearby societies and complexes extended help on Friday. People from his society, just behind Takshshila complex, also helped.
Praful Dobaria who owns a consultancy firm in the very next complex, said as soon as they heard about the fire they tried to use their water and fire safety resources to bring the fire under control. “We have fire control equipment in our complex as well which is very close to Takshshila. When the fire broke out and we saw smoke we tried to use the equipment. It is a small capacity water spray equipment. We knew it was not enough to douse the flaring fire but we had to do something,” he said.
“There were vehicles parked here in the front. As soon as the fire fighters came we immediately got together and moved all the vehicles including four wheelers to make way for the fire fighters,” Praful added.
At SMIMER hospital, according to hospital officials, over 160 people have donated blood since Friday night. “We didn’t have requirement for blood as such. But people kept pouring in after they heard about the tragedy and donated blood just in case,” a hospital official said.