Kolkata, Dec 10 : Slum dweller from the nearby Panchanantala shanties staying just behind the AMRI hospital, scaled walls, climbed pipes and bamboo scaffoldings and shattered glass panes to help rescue at least 70 patients trapped on the smoke-filled floors, reports The Telegraph, Kolkata..
Raju Bhandari was one of the first to smell the fire and rushed to the hospital compound. He could see patients banging on the glass windows from the second and third floors, desperately calling for help. Raju knew he had to enter the building quickly to save as many of them as possible. But the security guards would not let him pass.
“It was around 2.30am,” said the 25-year-old, who lives in a shanty. “The guards were doing nothing and the building was wrapped in smoke. When the guards refused to let me enter, three friends and I scaled the wall from the back of the hospital. We asked the private guards for ropes for climbing. But they tried to push us away.”
Raju and his friends did not budge and climbed a bamboo scaffolding — that had been there because of ongoing renovation — to the second floor.
“We shattered the glass panes and entered the floor. By the time the patients were already trying to jump. We stopped them,” said another saviour, Bubai Das.
They helped the patients who could walk to climb down the scaffolding. But rescuing those who were in no position to walk posed a problem. “We then made a rope by joining the bed sheets and curtains. We tied the makeshift ropes to the patients' midriff and started lowering them. The patients were hurt and so were the rescuers, but we continued with the job,” said Bubai.
Reaching those beyond the second floor proved difficult because the scaffolding was only up to that floor. On the third and fourth floors, some patients had already started breaking the glass panes and even started pelting stones at the rescuers in a bid to attract their attention.
“They were screaming out for our help. But we were helpless. Some of us climbed to the higher floors but they could not bring down the patients, who were mostly serious,” said another rescuer, Chandan Saha.
The rescuers reckoned they managed to bring 70 patients out of the building. “Some of them were already dead by the time we got them down,” said Raju, who works in a private firm in Dalhousie.
The saviours alleged that the fire officers started entering only after 5am.
“The doctors and other hospital staff were fleeing. I even saw a doctor kick away a patient who fell at his feet, begging to take him along,” said Sridam Kayal, another Panchanantala shanty resident.
Some of the patients' relatives, too, scaled the wall in a bid to save their loved ones. “As soon as I came to know about the fire, I fought with the security guards blocking my way and reached the second floor, where my uncle was admitted. He was senseless and I somehow got him down through the staircase,” said Santosh Goldar.
Once the fire officers and police took over the rescue operations, the first saviours were pushed out. The cops even reportedly resorted to a lathicharge to get them off the premises.
“We risked our lives in the smoke. Some of us fell ill and our bodies are full of cuts and bruises, but once the fire and smoke was controlled, they shooed us away,” said Debasis Halder, who was trying to enter the building around 9am to check if there were any more patients yet to be rescued.