“Too many incidents of arson are happening. We need more force to reach spots that have been blocked by rioters. DDPO (District Development and Panchayat officer) sahib said they didn’t have manpower. Therefore, we are unable to send fire tenders,” reads an entry made on Saturday, February 19 at 5.45pm in the rojnamcha or daily diary kept at the Rohtak fire station.
HT reviewed entries made in the daily diary kept at the Rohtak fire station and spoke to firemen deployed at the station to get a glimpse of what exactly happened between February 18 and February 20, when a mob of Jat agitators went on the rampage.
The entries made clearly show that the city was at the mercy of rioters on Friday and Saturday when hundreds of shops, showrooms, schools and houses were burnt down.
The entries give us a peep into the courage of 72 firemen — 44 of who are employed on a contract basis — who made optimum use of the 11 fire tenders at their disposal to keep the city safe from more damage.
The first entry of fire due to rioting is made in the evening of February 18 when three to four bikes were burnt at Ashoka Chowk.
But, all the major incidents of arson took place from February 19 beginning at 4.10pm.
For the next one hour, entries show, firemen tried to reach spots from where calls of fire were made but were blocked by protestors.
An entry made at 5.40pm mentions that ‘reports of fire from various places in the city are coming. At all places protesters are not allowing any vehicle to pass. Therefore, fire tenders are unable to reach there. Protestors have damaged fire trucks and assaulted firemen’.
The next entry says ‘aagjani bahut jyada hai’ (major incidents of fire). We need force but DDPO sahib said they didn’t have any force, so we can’t send vehicles’.
At 7.15pm, the sub-divisional officer told them not to send fire tenders without security.
At around 10pm, a call was made stating that Hotel Rivoli had been set on fire. But the next entry says that the fire tenders had to come back from midway as protestors blocked their path again.
At midnight, a call was made claiming that Haryana cabinet minister Captain Abhimanyu’s house had been set on to fire. The firemen, however, could get to the spot only by 6.45am as protesters kept pelting stones at them. The next day, as Central forces finally reached the town, the firemen found it easy to reach more areas.
Protestors had tried to burn down the Vita milk plant in the city.
“Ammonia is used in its cooling plant. If fire had reached there, there would have been a explosion. But, we managed to extinguish the fire on time Seven people – three females, three kids and a male - were trapped inside a burning house at D Park locality in the city. We managed to bring them out safely too,” a fire officer said.