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Ludhiana factory tragedy: Comrades gone in line of duty, work for these firemen will never be the same again

Fallen in the line of duty: Firefighters recall their colleagues they lost to the plastic factory blaze

punjab Updated: Nov 24, 2017 16:13 IST
Amarpal Singh
Amarpal Singh
Hindustan Times, Ludhiana
Ludhiana factory tragedy,death factory,in line of duty
Memories of their gone colleagues haunt firemen as they are back to the grind at the fire control room at Clock Tower Road.(HT Photo)

Their 12 hours a day at work were marked by constant chatter, cackles over jokes and a constant sense of bonhomie. An eerie silence fills the fire control room now, four days after their six colleagues fell in the line of duty.

The blaze in the plastic factory near Suffian Chowk that killed 13, including six firemen, however, has not stopped the firemen from remaining alert at work, for any exigency may be right around the corner. But their moist eyes lay their emotions bare — working at the fire station will never be the same again.

Sub-fire officers Rajinder Sharma, Sumohan Gill and Raj Kumar, leading fireman Puran Singh and firefighters Rajan Singh and Vishal Kumar were found dead in the rubble after the five-storey factory building came crashing down on Monday. Leading fireman Manohar Lal and firefighters Sukhdev and Manpreet are yet to be traced.

There are five fire stations in the city. Firefighters Rajinder Sharma, Sumohan Gill, Raj Kumar and Manpreet were deployed at the Central Fire Station; Vishal and Sukhdev at Sunder Nagar station; Puran Singh and Rajan Singh at Focal Point station and Manohar Lal at Gill Road station. An uneasy calm fills the air at these fire stations.

For the firemen, losing colleagues is akin to losing their family members. “We spend 12 hours of the day together, share every emotion, support each other in all situations, not forgetting to pull each other’s leg,” the firemen at central fire station on Clock Tower Road said in unison.

Lunch hour also does not feel the same, the food appearing tasteless as memories of their potlucks at lunch haunt the firefighters. Fireman Pankaj Sharma recalls fondly, “Manpreet used to often bring ‘saag’ from home, while Sukhdev used to bring ‘lassi’, and share with everyone in the staff. No matter it was a driver, a fireman or a senior officer, everyone used to partake in the meal.”

“Rajinder used to live in the office four days a week, and Pankaj used to bring potable water bottles for him from home. Rajinder used to get ice-cream for all of us when on night duty. In the morning, we all would go for a walk at 5am,” he reminisced.

Recalling Raj Kumar as an elder brother, the firemen shared he used to guide them in every situation.

Pouring his heart out, fireman Naresh said, “Rajinder ji was a fatherly figure to all of us. He used to call me ‘patha’ (sturdy) and Pankaj ‘Pandit ji’ . His office door always remained open. We can’t help but turn to his room every now and then, waiting for a summon. It’s hard to bear his absence, so we have closed his room’s door.”

Recalling Raj Kumar as an elder brother, the firemen shared he used to guide them in every situation. “He was so much fun. We would nick money from his pocket, and treat everyone,” Pankaj said with a smile, that soon faded away.

“Whenever we addressed Puran as an old man, he would retort he was still young and evergreen, even in his fifties,” the firemen chorused.

The catastrophe continues to weigh heavy on their minds. “We are mentally disturbed and drained out. I don’t feel the same confidence anymore,” fireman Pradeep said.

“But duty still remains priority. So we have to keep the debilitating emotions at bay,” the firemen said, sharing Rajinder’s clarion call every time they got a fire alert: “Chalo mere shero seva karan chaliye (Come on bravehearts, Let’s go, serve).

First Published: Nov 24, 2017 16:13 IST