The first time the firemen reached the burning flat in Samatanagar, Thane, they put it out and left. When the fire restarted, they went there again, and died.
On Sunday, lead fireman GC Singh (56) and his team – Kishore Patil (45), Tanaji Kale (42), Santosh Shinde (42), Suresh Jamadar (41) and Avdhut Thanekar (40) – died of suffocation after they were stuck in the elevator of the 14-storey Punarvasu building in Tarangan Society, Samatanagar.
If a ladder from the outside had been an option, they may possibly have avoided the elevator and survived. It wasn’t – because the Thane Fire Department’s existing ladder can only reach the 12th floor. A new, 52-metre-long Finland-made ladder, which the department has paid Rs 6 crore for, is good enough for the 14th floor, but it has not been delivered yet.
On Saturday night, a fire started in a top floor flat owned by Ravindra Kulkarni of the Konkan irrigation department. The Wagle Estate fire station got the first call at around 11.28 pm on Saturday. Six firemen rushed there and put out the fire.
“At 4.30 am on Sunday, we got a call saying the fire had restarted. I called in two more teams, from Balkum and Jawahar Bagh — an 18-member team got there,” said Chief Fire Officer Vijay Vaidya.
By this time, the doors of the three other flats on that floor were also burnt, and fire and thick smoke had blanked out all visibility.
“While the other two teams took the stairs, the Wagle Estate team carrying water pipes took the elevator. It got stuck on the 14th floor, where they tried, unsuccessfully, to pry open its two steel doors with a bolt cutter and iron rods,” Vaidya added. The water pipes were to be slotted into the building’s fire emergency water supply on the terrace.
A fireman speaking on condition of anonymity said the Wagle team, on their second trip, left their cellphones at the station thinking it was a minor fire, which they would douse quickly.
The other two teams realised the Wagle team was missing only when they had doused the fire and were returning at around 7 am.
“The first fire began after a Diwali rocket landed in the balcony, which contained plastic and paper waste. The second fire was probably a short circuit caused by some fancy lights,” said Vaidya. The Thane municipal commissioner announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each and a job for the kin of the dead.