Md Shahidul Islam, station officer at Siddik Bazar fire station in Dhaka, was one of two firemen on the crane ladder that the fire department used to rescue people trapped in the FR Tower in Banani on Thursday. The firefighter shares his experience with the Dhaka Tribune’s Mizanur Rahman
When Md Shahidul Islam, station officer at the Siddik Bazar fire station in Old Dhaka, first heard about the fire at FR Tower on Thursday, he was in his office.
“As soon as we received the emergency call from our DG [director general of Fire Service and Civil Defence], our unit started for the scene with our turntable ladder and other firefighting equipment,” he told the Dhaka Tribune on Friday.
But as usual, Shahidul’s unit was slowed down by traffic between Bangabazar and Banani.
“Still, we were able to reach the spot quicker than expected because of the police,” he added.
As soon as they reached the blazing building, they began setting up the ladder.
While working, Shahidul and his fellow fireman, Shohag Chandra Karmakar, witnessed the lengths people went to escape the fire inside the building .
“I saw a person jump from the building to save his life. You cannot be but affected by that,” the firefighter said.
Soon enough, people started to come out through windows and climb down the cables hanging outside the building.
“It was an extremely dangerous escape route to take,” Shahidul said. “Almost all of those people fell down.”
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Desperate to stop people from climbing down the cable, Shahidul and Shohag started shouting at the trapped people not to jump.
“We asked them to sit down and keep their heads down,” Shahidul said. “In a fire, oxygen pockets are created near the surface as the smoke goes up.”
In the meantime, people trapped on several floors were trying to get the firemen’s attention, waving hands, handkerchiefs, and white objects through the broken glass windows.
Shahidul and Shohag were having difficulty going near the windows because of the smoke and flames.
“We promised the people trapped inside that we would come back for them,” Shahidul said. “A pregnant woman pleaded with me to save her child. ‘I want my child to be in this world,’ she told me crying.”
Firefighters are trained to remain calm and level-headed in moments of crisis, but seeing the desperation of those people was almost too much for Shahidul to bear.
“I am a trained firefighter, but I am human too. At that moment, it was impossible not to be moved by the crying and the pleas of people trying to escape the fire.”
But his training kicked in on time, and he knew what he had to do.
“We kept reassuring them we would save them all, and to follow our instructions.”
Although he asked the trapped people not take any risks, Shahidul himself took a huge risk to save other lives.
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“My mask was preventing me from getting near the people. I had to take it off so I could grab them easily and pull them over to the ladder.”
And because of that, Shahidul inhaled smoke as well. Despite that, he continued with the operation.
“My supervisors asked me if I wanted to get down and let others continue with the rescue mission. I realized it might be difficult for a new firefighter to figure out where the people were trapped. So I decided to continue.”
At that moment, Shahidul did not think of what would happen if something happened to him. He did not stop to think about his wife and his five-month-old son.
“I only had one thought – if anyone died after we arrived, that death would be our [the fire fighters’] responsibility. So I took three long breaths, and got back to work, making sure I did not let go of anyone.”
Shahidul stayed up and worked throughout the entire rescue operation. His unit, and 20 others, simultaneously worked to douse the fire.
In the end, they were only able to save the people who somehow managed to stay alive and survive to the very end.
“If we were even a few minutes late, those people would have died,” Shahidul said, still rattled by his experience the previous day.
When he went through a medical check-up, doctors told him that his lungs had been affected by the smoke.
He is not bothered.
“It was a blessing for us that we were able to save all of those people. I am a firefighter and saving lives is my first priority.”
Mamun Mahbub, assistant director (admin) of Fire Service, praised Shahidul’s work.
“Shahidul is a brave firefighter. He will do well in future.”
After completing his MBA at Jahangirnagar University, Shahidul joined the Fire Service in 2016. A native of Jhalakathi, he has been on more than 100 rescue missions in fire incidents and many underwater rescue operations.