Delhi fireman Rajesh Shukla is being hailed as a hero after he saved 11 people from the massive fire at a bag manufacturing factory in Delhi's Rani Jhansi Road market, where 43 people were killed and over 50 injured.
The death toll would have been much higher if Rajesh had waited for a backup. "We had got a call about a fire but we did not know the scale of it. We could only analyse it once we reached the spot. We also did not know that it was a factory or that there were casualties caused by the fire," he said.
"We were not given information about people being trapped in the building. Hence, it was tough for us to rescue people as well," he added.
Rajesh said that the rescue operations intensified after they heard a voice on the third floor of the factory. He braved into the smoke-filled room without his breathing apparatus – although he had ordered for it – to rescue the trapped person.
"We could not afford to lose any time after we got the information about the trapped person," he said, adding that it was assumed only one person was in the room. However, after reaching the third floor, he heard numerous people gasping for breath and informed about the same to his team downstairs.
"I saw people who were conscious and in the state to walk with me. I took them out and understood that the scale of casualties is much higher than was initially estimated," he said. Rajesh entered the building at least 12 times before his breathing apparatus exhausted. He was also injured during the rescue operations and had inhaled a lot of smoke.
"Yes, I got a little injured. But we cannot wait for anything while saving lives," he said.
After trapped persons were brought out of the building, they were rushed to the hospital in Rajesh's own vehicle, autos or any available vehicles as the ambulances had not reached the spot by then.
Rajesh was praised for his bravery by Delhi Home Minister Satyendra Jain, who met him in LNJP Hospital, where the fireman was being treated for his injuries. "Fireman Rajesh Shukla is a real hero. He was the first fireman to entered the fire spot and he saved around 11 lives. He did his job till the end despite of his bone injuries. Salute to this brave hero," Jain wrote on Twitter after meeting Rajesh.
What happened on the day of the incident?
A fire had broken out at around 5 am in the busy Rani Jhansi Road market. Forty-three lives were lost in the incident, most of whom were labourers who were sleeping at the factory.
The Medical Director of Lok Nayak Hospital, Kishore Singh, had said that the deaths were mostly due to smoke inhalation and suffocation. The exact cause of the fire has not been determined.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had described the incident as "horrific" and wished for quick recovery of the injured. "The fire in Delhi's Anaj Mandi on Rani Jhansi Road is extremely horrific. My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery. Authorities are providing all possible assistance at the site of the tragedy," he wrote on Twitter.
The PMO had also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakhs each from Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) for next of kin of those who have lost their lives due to tragic fire in Delhi. PM has approved Rs 50,000 each for those seriously injured in the fire.
Calling the incident "tragic", Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that the rescue operations are underway.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah also extended his condolences to the families of deceased and said that the authorities have been instructed to provide all possible assistance on "urgent basis".
The fire is said to be one of the biggest fire incidents in Delhi after the Uphaar Cinema fire which took place on June 13, 1997, in south Delhi's Green Park area leading to deaths of 59 and over 100 non-fatal injuries.