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Mumbai's firemen face blazing challenge at Taj, Oberoi

November 29, 2008 15:59 IST

Rushing to the call of duty despite having no protection against terrorists' bullets, personnel from the city's fire brigade had a harrowing three days while combating blazes at the Taj and Oberoi hotels and Nariman House in south Mumbai.

"There were some pretty scary moments while we were fighting fires at the Taj Hotel. On Thursday night, while we were in a cage trying to rescue guests trapped in the heritage section of the hotel, we saw one of the terrorists carrying a gun," Chief Fire Officer A V Sawant told PTI.

"Luckily for us, he did not turn in our direction and we managed to continue fighting the fire," Sawant said.

Fire personnel were called in to battle fires multiple times at the Taj and Oberoi-Trident hotels where terrorists were holed up and set rooms on fire.

"They (the terrorists) kept setting the rooms on fire while fighting the commandos. We would wait for an assurance from the commandos before going in," Sawant said.

However, the sound of bullets while fighting the fires did not make it easy for them, he said.

"It was not easy to work in such conditions. There is a risk while fighting fires but in this case there was the added risk of bullets," a fireman said on condition of anonymity.

There was the added problem of not being able to enter the building to fight fires which made our task more difficult, the official said.

During one such mission to fight a blaze on the fourth floor of the Taj on Thursday, firemen suddenly found themselves without any escort and had to rush out on their own. "We were told by a commando that we would be provided with protection to go to battle the fire on the fourth floor. However, after climbing four storeys we realised that the commando was no longer with us," a fireman said.

"The sound of firing was coming from the second floor and to escape being caught in the crossfire we rushed downstairs on our own and managed to get out," he said.

Firemen, who fought the fires at the Taj, were seen fighting infernos at the iconic building without any bulletproof jackets.

Fire officials spent terse moments at the Nariman House in Colaba area, where terrorists threw grenades from the residential building apparently to cause an explosion at the petrol pump below the structure.

"Luckily nothing happened. Since it is a residential area and there could have been high human losses," a fire official, who was at Nariman House, said.

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