BIPIN GANATRA: An unsung hero from “Kolkata” who fought fire with fire

Very often, childhood incidents mould a person’s future, be it in a positive or negative manner. How one behaves, what career he pursues, what his outlook towards his surroundings is: Everything is hugely due to what might have happened when he was a child. This article salutes an unsung hero, who grew amidst loss, to be a savior to many due to such an accident occurring in his childhood. This is the story of Shri Bipin Ganatra.

source: BBC

On a Diwali night, Bipin Ganatra was only twelve when a fire snatched the life of his elder brother, Narendra. The accident left a deep impact and he decided then and there to save as many lives as possible from fires. And for over forty years, he has been staying true to his commitment, often risking his own life in the process.

A drop out from school soon after his brother’s death, Ganatra has fought over 100 fires in Kolkata. He is now 59 and although he is not a professional fireman, he understands how fire works- it comes in red and blue hues, blue being more lethal.  The roar depicts what exactly the blaze is feeding on.

Working tirelessly to douse flames, rescue people and clean up debris, he is always on the lookout for reports of fire incidents in the city. His home is a tiny flat in busy Kolkata, and he stays up late night, watching the television and listening to the radio; calling Kolkata’s fire brigade headquarters often for updates on fire outbreaks.

Such is his dedication towards selflessly saving the precious lives of people caught in fires that in 2009, the fire department honored Bipin Ganatra with a volunteer’s metallic ID card (a rare award) for his selfless service.

As soon as the news of an outbreak reaches his ears, he immediately paves his way through traffic and fire-ravaged buildings, often reaching the spot before the fire brigade itself. And this brave soul has been traveling down this road since his childhood. As a child, on the sound of a fire engine, young Ganatra would chase it till he reached the fire site, keenly observe how firefighters work, helping them and eventually learning from them. He first lent a hand to firemen during a blaze in a bank in 1978 and has never looked back since then.

Reports say that Kolkata is a city of frequent fires. A total of 347 people died and 1,749 were injured in some 2,000 fires in 2014. Last year, there were more than 1,600 fires, leaving 143 people dead and 974 injured- Another reason why Ganatra is seldom out of work – he has attended to as many as three fires in a single day!

Ganatra’s journey abounds in instances when he almost lost his life saving victims of fire.

He once entered a burning warehouse in Kolkata’s Strand Road to haul out two gas cylinders about to explode. Another time he stayed with a pregnant woman in an affected building till firemen arrived, made an improvised stretcher to move her across to an opposite roof.

Then again, in 2011, when a private hospital caught fire, claiming 89 lives, he entered the building through a smoke-filled stairwell and saved the life of an alive patient stuck in the Intensive Care Unit.

Other rescue operations include Bow Bazar bomb blasts in 1993, and the 100-hour Nandaram Market fire in 2008.

This humble man- an electrician by profession, earns barely Rs 1,000 a month, plus 2,500 rupees every month given by his friends. When there is a fire, he fights wearing a 21-year-old khaki uniform (gifted by a fire official), a safety torch (bought by friends) and a yellow plastic helmet (another gift by well-wishers). And when there isn’t a fire, he is seen at the MG Road-CR Avenue crossing in Kolkata, helping cops manage traffic.

ScripBros feel immense pride to have penned down the story of Bipin Ganatra, fondly known as Bipin da, who dedicates every day of his life to victims of fire, so that his dead brother’s soul rests peacefully. He is a true superhero whose story needs to be told.

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