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Ahmedabad firemen envy glory for US counterparts Friday, September 21, 2001
BY SOURAV MUKHERJEE, TIMES NEWS NETWORK
AHMEDABAD: Take a close look at 'The Pile' that today represents the twin 110-storey towers of World Trade Center and you will see the new heroes of America emerge from the site of destruction - the fire fighters of New York. Adulations, praises and a hug from President George Bush himself have elevated the fire brigade personnel to the status of supermen.
Back home in Ahmedabad, the unsung heroes of the rescue work after the January 26 earthquake have reasons to feel queasy about all the attention and admiration that their counterparts across the seven seas are getting. The Ahmedabad Fire Brigade (AFB) personnel, who put in 98 hours of work without a break or sleep to rescue survivors and dig out bodies from tonnes of rubble scattered over 70 collapsed sites in the city, say they also deserved better recognition for all the toil.
Instead of glorification and praises from citizens, the grossly under-staffed and ill-equipped AFB today narrates a saga of unfulfilled promises. Except for six firemen who were conferred the President's award, the rest of the force are a demoralised lot.
A senior fireman of AFB complained: "The New York fire brigade has 1,200 men at its disposal. Batches of firemen are working eight-hour shifts and thereby achieving better progress in round-the-clock rescue operations. For us, there were no relievers, no shifts. Eight months after the quake, most of us have got no reward or even appreciation."
Fireman Sukhdeo Mangela said: "With just 300 firemen scattered over different sites, we worked non-stop for 98 hours before the municipal commissioner himself asked AFB personnel to take a short break before rejoining the fray again. And yet the New York firemen are heroes and we are also-rans. It was the Army and the foreign rescue teams which hogged all the media attention." Mangela had rescued many quake victims from under the ruins of apartments.
"For the first three days after the quake, there was nobody to help us. Foreigners and other agencies came in much later but they walked away with top honours, thanks to media hype," said K R Makwana, a jamadar with the AFB.
Makwana, as also almost all firemen of AFB, believe: "The local media flashed photographs of foreign search and rescue team members walking in the rubble that lay strewn around Ahmedabad. Even the dogs they brought along got publicity. But we, who were toiling hard and taking great dangers to rescue the trapped people, were relegated to the background."
Makwana was instrumental in rescuing a severely injured woman, Jyotsna Gandhi, from the rubble of an apartment eight days after the quake.
Even the public acclaim that is now glorifying the NY fire department was conspicuously absent in Ahmedabad and has not gone down well with the firemen.
Says divisional fire officer M F Dastoor: "Despite the constraints that we worked under, the public does not know much about the fire department of Ahmedabad, leave alone our post-quake rescue mission. At the outset, 70 sites had to be attended to with 16 fire tenders, one crane, one snorkel and 20 ambulances. Though there was no mass appreciation for us, on-site we were helped and appreciated by the local people. That is reward enough." Dastoor is among the six officers of the AFB to have been selected for the President's Fire Service medal.
Another medal recipient, chief fire officer Bipin Jadeja, says: "For us, the public had responded well but the media did not. We had completed a large part of our job - search and rescue operations - in the first three days but nothing like the New York accolades have come our way."
Jadeja added: "During those days of hectic and tiring work, I constantly told my men to concentrate on their job and not be bothered by the lack of praise. While I have proposed for a bonus-increment in salaries of firemen for their exemplary services, a little more appreciation for the saviours of Ahmedabad would have definitely been a morale booster."
News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]