60-year-old volunteer firefighter, Bipin Ganatra, has been named a Padma Shri awardee by the Centre.
The Padma Shri is the fourth highest civilian award in India. It is awarded for distinguished service in any field. The awards are announced on the occasion of Republic Day every year. They are conferred by the President at ceremonial functions which are held at Rashtrapati Bhawan usually around March/ April every year.
This year, the President has approved conferment of Padma Awards to 89 persons. The list comprises of 7 Padma Vibhushan, 7 Padma Bhushan and 75 Padma Shri Awardees.
Bipin was awarded for his contributions in the field of “Social Work”. In many decades of hard work, he has helped out in over a hundred fires around his city of Kolkata. The irony is that Bipin is not even a professional fireman; he is a very passionate volunteer firefighter.
Had to drop out of school
When he was 12 years old, Bipin lost his elder brother, Narendra, in a fire. After this tragedy, Bipin was forced to drop out of school.
His brother’s demise inspired Bipin to help anyone who was caught in a similar situation. In the five decades since then, he has he has attended to more than 100 fires, helping to douse the flames, rescue the people, and cleaning up the debris.
Obsession with fire-fighting since a very young age
Even as a child, Bipin was passionate about fire-fighting. He would chase the fire trucks and follow their sirens whenever he heard them. He would then hang around, watching the firefighters work, learning from them and occasionally helping them.
After dropping out of school, Bipin was working as a mechanic in 1976 when he heard that a bank in the neighbourhood was on fire. He duly ran to the fire scene. Once there, Bipin helped carry water pipes from the scene to a pond in the neighbourhood and checked them for leaks.
“I still remember a scene vividly from the fire,” Bipin told BBC. “The bank manager ran out of the building that was on fire, stopped, remembered he had forgotten something, ran back in – and never returned.”
Bipin has not stopped since then.
He lives in the city of fires
Kolkata frequently suffers from fire outbreaks. There were more than 1,600 fires in the city in 2015 alone. In 2014, around 2,000 fires killed 347 and injured 1,749. The numbers for 2015 were also grim: 143 dead and 974 injured.
Scars and injuries did not deter him.
Bipin has often been injured, burnt and caught under the rubble during rescue operations, but he has never let this stop him from heading out to help at a new fire in the city.
He earns barely Rs. 1,000 every month as a part-time electrician. He spends much of his day – and night – listening to the radio or watching the television for news of any fire incidents in Kolkata. He is aso in constant contact with the fire department. When news breaks out, he immediately takes a taxi to the location.Some times, he is at the site before the firefighters themselves.
Determined to continue fighting till the end
Bipin’s crusade has often been a tough one.
When Kolkata’s six-storey Stephen Court building caught fire in 2010, he climbed to the first floor to persuade the people trapped on the upper floors not to jump off the building.
He said, “I kept shouting to this man from the third floor not to jump, and wait a bit for help. Then I heard a blunt thud and saw blood squirting all over. I remember picking up the body of a charred woman. She had an Indian Airlines ID card around her neck. Sometimes the strangest things survive in a blaze. I became a collector of bodies, some charred, some crushed. Everywhere there was the smell of death.”
This is only one of the several instances where Bipin risked his life for others. He has rescued people and helped in rescue missions in over a hundred fires in Kolkata. For his constant efforts, he was awarded a volunteer identity card presented by a former minister.
The Don’t Give Up World Team salutes Bipin Ganatra’s efforts to making Kolkata safer.