Fifty-year-old Suresh Chandra Sharma, a fire truck driver for 30 years, recounts his most memorable rescue operation when he had saved a woman stuck in a house that was ablaze.
“It was a small village in Uttar Pradesh, a house was on fire. After the operation, her husband hugged me and thanked me for saving his wife. He said my job is the best in the world and he can never repay the effort my team had put in and he will never forget that day. Neither will I as it was that day that I realised my job’s worth,” said Sharma.
Except for a few instances like these, Sharma believes that a fireman’s job is a thankless profession, where he is on alert 24 hours a day, waiting for the next accident.
He agrees that the profession is often subject to neglect and disdain from both the public and the government. Yet, after 30 years in this field, he is today a proud fire tender driver.
“We don’t discriminate between the victim based on his/her living standard, religion or caste. Our response time is one minute and it remains the same whether the call comes from a high-rise apartment or a slum. In fact, we dispatch extra tenders for slum fires as there are more chances of fire escalation,” Sharma said.
His thoughts are echoed by fellow drivers, Tejpal Singh and Mukesh Gupta, who work in the phase I Fire station. They believe that the poor are more sympathetic and thankful of the work done by firefighters than the rich who stay in planned sectors and apartments.
“Even though slums are congested, whenever we reach there with tenders to douse a fire, we are always assisted by the dwellers. They respond to hooters and give us way even in jams. But that feeling is absent when we visit sectors. Often, their roads are encroached upon by parked vehicles and residents are hardly bothered that a tender is unable to reach the fire spot. When we ask them to move their vehicles, we are often abused by the ‘educated lot’,” Singh said.
“At times, we have to push the parked vehicles aside on our own so that the route is cleared. They don’t even respond to sirens,” Gupta said.
One fireman, on condition of anonymity, revealed how he and his team members were once asked to scrub the floor and walls after rescue operations.
“A retired officer had called us after fire broke out in one of the rooms of his flat. After the operation, due to the smoke, the walls and floor had turned black. He asked us to scrub the walls and floor and then leave. When we protested, he said that this is part of our job. It was an unbelievable experience,” he said.
It is these misconceptions and attitude of the people that trouble the firemen of Noida Phase I.
“We are not asking you to pick a bucket and join us in dousing a fire. The least they can do is to respect the siren and give us way. Instead, what we face is abuse and threats from the elites. They use cuss words at us and complain that we didn’t reach on time. But they hardly make an effort to end the problem of encroachment inside their sectors,” Singh said.
Yet, after all this, the firemen are still willing to do their job, every day, dousing fire after fire and saving lives in slums, government offices, high-rise buildings and factories.
“We all do our job for a reason. Some do it for money; others do it for authority and power. Maybe, I am doing my job because of that man who hugged me and said that my job is the best in the world,” Sharma said.