In one of the biggest rescue operations in the Capital’s recent history, more than 150 people were evacuated by the Delhi Fire Services (DFS) and Delhi Police from the multi-storey building of Punjab National Bank (PNB) at Parliament Street when a major fire broke out at the ground floor of the building on Wednesday evening. The PNB building is barely 500m away from the Parliament House.
The fire broke out at the generator plant-cum-AC control room of the five-storey building, which also houses its IT department and the data centre. “We got a call at 4:40pm that there was a fire in the generator-cum-AC room of the bank. There was a standard turnout of fire engines but when we realised it was a major incident, 23 fire-tenders and 80 firemen were sent to the spot. Short-circuit seems to be the cause of the fire,” said AK Sharma, director, DFS.
According to the fire department, there were around 450 people trapped inside the building when the fire broke out. Within seconds, thick dark smoke enveloped the building through the AC ducts and shafts.
“The ground floor houses the bank branch. Luckily, the banking services were shut when the fire was reported. Those on the ground and the first floor were able to get out on their own but there were still around 150 people trapped on other floors,” Sharma added.
“We had to break the window panels to rescue employees trapped on the third, fourth and the top floor. Some people stuck on the fifth and the fourth floors were taken to the terrace with the help of sky lifts. From there, they were taken out from the terrace of the adjoining building. Within an hour, the fire was doused and the building was vacated,” he said.
Despite the high intensity of the fire, only one person was injured in the accident who was sent to the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. Bank services were also affected due to fire but were later restored. “Unfortunately, fire gutted some portion of our bank. No employee has received any serious injury,” said KR Kamath, chairman and managing director, PNB.
Employees sent mails, SMSes to relatives
New Delhi: It was an uneasy hour for over 150 PNB employees trapped inside the building as the black smoke from the ground floor started growing.
“People were throwing slips with their names from the window panels. Some even sent emails and SMSes to their relatives. It was difficult to be in that position as it was becoming suffocating,” said AK Sharma, director, Delhi Fire Service (DFS).
Reeta Tandon, a bank employee who was on the fourth floor when the fire broke out, had gone blank as she thought the fire department won’t be able to rescue them in time. “It became suffocating. We broke the windows but still weren’t able to breathe. The fire brigade reached on time,” said Sharma, who was in tears after being rescued.
The fire alarm rang as the smoke started enveloping the building but some mistook it for a mock drill and didn’t bother to come out. “The fire alarm rang but we though it was a mock drill. Only when it became difficult to breathe, we realised it was a real fire,” said Abhishek Singh, a PNB employee.
With an incident like this, doubts are being raised about the disaster management plan and the fire safety of the building. “There is only one exit point for the bank employees. We came out through a monkey ladder placed on the fourth floor,” said Jayant Rishi, a survivor.
But swift reaction by the DFS and the police ensured that those trapped inside were rescued on time. “The operation was managed very well. It could have spread to our bank too if the fire tenders hadn’t reached on time,” said Shyama Verma, a UCO bank employee, who works in the adjacent building.