NEW DELHI: When the first firefighters arrived at the site of the deadly blaze in north Delhi, they had no idea so many people were trapped in the four-storey building.
The firefighters made their way through dense smoke and flames on the first floor when they overhead a distress call coming from the second, so they rushed to rescue the person, and realised many more were trapped and screaming for help.
The incident turned out to be the biggest fire tragedy in the national capital since the Uphaar Cinema blaze in 1997, when 59 people died.
Rajesh Shukla, the additional divisional officer of the Delhi Fire Service, said he had received only a single line of information about a blaze in a factory in Anaj Mandi area.
Once at the site, he said the firefighters tried to douse the fire on the first floor when "we heard someone making a phone call about the blaze on the second floor, and directed the water hose towards it.
" "I thought there was only one man and I would rescue him but when I reached there, the room was filled with people crying for help," he told PTI.
"I brought down 10-12 people who were conscious from that room but later we learnt that there was another room where there were more people, numbering more than 30. We learnt (about it) quite late," Shukla said.
He said it was a difficult operation since the entire building was filled with smoke.
"I went for the second time with a breathing apparatus and by that time, the category of the fire had been upgraded and there were more teams that were sent," he added.
Shukla said then his breathing apparatus exhausted and he stayed downstairs.
He later went back into the building and got to know that there were nine more persons trapped.
"It was a difficult operation and we had to carry a lot of people on our shoulders. I entered the building more than 12 times during the operation," he said.
He has suffered injuries to his knee-cap, inhaled smoke and admitted to LNJP Hospital. Shukla has earned praise for his bravery from Delhi Home Minister Satyendar Jain.
"Fireman Rajesh Shukla is a real hero. He was the first fireman to entered the fire spot and he saved around 11 lives. He did his job till the end despite of his bone injuries. Salute to this brave hero (sic)," Jain tweeted.
But Shukla said it was a "team effort".
The fireman said he has seen massive fires during his service and has been a part of several key rescue missions.
"I have handled close to 7,000 fire rescue calls and was a part of the rescue operation during the Hotel Arpit Palace Fire in Karol Bagh and the recent AIIMS hospital fire," he said.