New Delhi, May 24 -- Nearly 125 people had a narrow escape after a major fire broke out in a multi-storey building housing the offices of several banks at Parliament Street.
At the time of incident, there were at least 300 people-mostly bank employees - present inside the building. As the fire was reported, they tried to make a safe exit. Though over a hundred were successful, nearly 125 persons were trapped inside with the thick smoke obstructing their way. Unable to locate the passage and exits in the building, they could only be rescued by the fire fighters who reached the spot within 15 minutes. Divisional fire officer Rajesh Pawar had to be hospitalised due to excessive inhalation of smoke.
The blaze erupted in the office of Punjab National Bank situated in UCO Bank Bhavan located near Akashwani Bhavan and Nirvachan Sadan at around 4.45 pm. PNB building is situated within a distance of 300 metres from the Parliament House. Delhi Fire Service (DFS) pressed 23 fire engines into service and the fire was brought under control. Firemen evacuated all who were trapped inside. The cause of fire was not immediately known.
DFS chief AK Sharma said that the fire could have been caused by short circuit but he was not certain about it. They are conducting an enquiry into the causes of the fire and would soon be able to zero in the actual cause in a detailed report.
The fire was reported at 3.41 pm and firemen responded to the call as fire engines reached the spot in time and the fire control measures were started. Punjab National Bank's office was the most affected. Fire was brought under control within half an hour.
An eye witness said that he heard a loud sound from the ground floor and the building immediately caught fire.
A senior police official with the New Delhi district said, "There were large number of bank employees and customers who were trapped inside the building when the fire broke out. While some of them managed to get out of the building, a number of them were trapped as the exit was engulfed in smoke". Six sky-lifts and hydraulic elevators were pressed into service to rescue people from the top floor.
The staffers, including women, climbed onto the ledges of windows. Rescue workers helped them onto cranes which brought them safely on the ground. Anxiety gave way to emotional scenes outside the building as colleagues hugged each other after getting out. Some family members of those working in the building also rushed to the spot after hearing about the incident.
An employee, who came out of the building, claimed he leapt onto the terrace of an adjoining building along with some of his colleagues. He said an alarm sound was heard soon after the fire began.
Dr MS Siddhu, Medical Superintendent at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, said only one person was brought to the facility for treatment. "His case is not serious. He inhaled smoke and felt uneasy," he said.
Through a Press statement, the PNB termed the incident of fire unfortunate and stated there has been no loss of life or material damage to the assets of the bank and lockers of the customers. "While every effort is being made to resume the operations of our Parliament Street branch, arrangements have been made to serve the customers of the branch through nearby branches - ECE House (Kasturba Gandhi Marg), Janpath, N-46 Connaught Place, L Block Connaught Place and Minto Road," said the press release.
'As fire alarms rang, I could not understand what to do next'
Though the fire incidents in the Punjab National Bank caused no causalty, those who survived the possible tragedy had a horrifying tale to tell.
As the fire alarm was raised in the building, Aditya, a bank employee could not understand what to do next. He just followed his colleagues who were moving towards the exit gates trying to sail through the thick smoke, which had engulfed the entire building.
As he could not locate the exit, he moved towards the drain pipes and found a passage through which he could go to the terrace. "A few more were also present there but the access was blocked with an iron mesh. After cutting the mesh, we found a narrow gap with an iron stair connected to the terrace," said Aditya, who managed to come out through that access.
"First, we got scared as it was quite risky to move on it and if one's hands slipped, he could have lost his life. Fortunately, we moved towards the UCO bank building through a narrow pathway," he added.
Failing to come out of the building, Jeet Sen Gupta, who got caught inside the building narrated his tale, "The smoke was billowing from everywhere. I couldn't come down to the ground floor, it was in flames and I got trapped inside. It was like a death trap. Fire servicemen rescued me."
Survivors said that it was mainly smoke because of which they got trapped inside their office buildings.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police sealed the area and restricted the movement of people towards the building by placing barricades at the entrance.
Delhi Fire Service earns plaudits
Prompt action and effective handling of the situation by an alert Delhi Fire Service averted the fire in UCO Bank Bhavan from turning into a conflagration. In the four-storeyed building situated in high security zone nearly 125 people including 30 women were stuck inside their offices.
While praising the timely effort of the DFS, one of the rescued PNB officials said it was swift action of DFS through which trapped employees could be rescued on time.
"There was smoke everywhere. The entire building was smoke-logged and nothing was visible. We felt suffocated inside the building and it was through the efforts of the fire servicemen we got saved," PNB employees said.
The fire services pressed hydraulic platforms and ladders into service to carry out the evacuation. "We received a call around 4.40 pm from the office of Punjab National Bank. The rescue team as well as fire tenders were swiftly pressed into the service. Our men went inside the building and started the evacuation process. The employees were rescued through hydraulic platforms and ladders," said Director Delhi Fire Services AK Sharma.
In the blazing fire, the officials said that nobody sustained injuries. "The evacuation process is unparallel in the history of Delhi. We saved so many lives and nobody was injured. Thirty women were also rescued," Sharma said.
The evacuation operation drew huge crowds who looked at the daredevil acts of the servicemen. The fire servicemen were fitted with oxygen cylinders on their backs, masks and eyeglasses on their face. "It was only smoke inside and it obstructed the movement of people in coming out of the building," said officials.
Dousing the flames, the fire servicemen broke the glasses of the entire building to let the smoke come out. "It was quite a difficult job as smoke engulfed the entire building" a fire serviceman said after completing the operation successfully.
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