Mumbai fire fighters: The unsung heroes of 26/11 victory

Mumbai fire fighters: The unsung heroes of 26/11 victory

Mumbai fire fighters: The unsung heroes of 26/11 victory

Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, Director of the Chabad Mumbai Relief Fund, showing bullet marks on a wall right opposite Nariman House during a multi-faith candle light vigil in the memory of 26/11 terror attacks victims in Mumbai on Tuesday. Nariman House is the Jewish center where the terrorists killed a rabbi, his wife and a National Security Guard commando in 2008. PTI

With just a few days left for the first anniversary of the terror assault, one of the most audacious in recent memory, these firemen are still to receive the gallantry award announced by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM).

If the images of Hotel Taj with its iconic dome enveloped in fire and smoke are permanently etched in the nation's collective memory, so are those of the fire fighters toiling for three long days putting out the blaze at multiple terror locations and rescuing the hostages.

Rubbing shoulders with the elite NSG commandos were the over 1,200 firemen, all unarmed, risking their lives while fighting the raging flames triggered by the terrorists holed up at Hotel Taj, the Trident and Nariman House during the terror siege.

"I am proud of my men who showed exemplary courage during the attacks. They not only put out the blaze but saved over 400 people from the jaws of death risking their lives," Chief Fire Officer, Uday Tatkare said.

"For a rescue operation of such gigantic proportions, Mumbai Fire Brigade then had only six Ariel Ladder Platforms (ALP) and just two bullet-proof jackets, but loads of courage," Tatkare said.

On November 26 last year just when the nation was preparing to go to sleep, the might of one of country's best of security apparatus was put to test.

Spraying water at the blazing landmark hotels and Nariman House, sometimes ducking a barrage of gunfire and grenades, these unarmed men put their best foot forward.

A year later, their department too seems to be following in their footsteps.

"Last year's terror attack has taught us a lot. We have taken several steps to improve our battle readiness," said Tatkare.

"Besides procuring latest equipment and undertaking capacity building, we are conducting seminars and training programmes for the firemen on a regular basis," he said.

"Co-ordination among various agencies like Police, Railways, BEST, MCGM and others too has gone up," he added.

In May this year, BMC Standing Committee cleared a Rs 30 crore proposal for procuring new fire resistant uniforms and equipment for the 2,300 firemen.

"We have asked for latest equipment like remote-controlled monitors, ground monitors and 100 bulletproof jackets among other things. If we had the latest equipment during 26/11 our job would have been a little easier," Tatkare said.

All the praise for their remarkable efforts notwithstanding, the promise of honouring them remains unfulfilled.

"We acknowledge the efforts put in by the firemen and hence the MCGM decided to felicitate them by presenting them gallantry awards. The process of preparing the final list of awardees is in the pipeline," Additional Municipal Commissioner Manisha Mhaiskar said.

The initial list prepared by MCGM was withheld after the Fire Brigade Union and Mahapalika Karmachari Union complained of favouritism and alleged names of several firemen involved in the action were missing. Now, the process to prepare a second list is on.

Almost a year since the attacks, it remains to be seen when these bravehearts would be honoured or will the fire of discontent burn inside them long after they extinguished the blaze triggered by the terrorists that threatened to reduce to ashes Mumbai's landmarks.