Not trained to be one. Yet one of the best firefighters of Kolkatta.

Bipin Ganatra from Kolkatta is one of those rare people who hunts down fires. A self appointed fireman, Bipin watches TV to find out about blazes in his city and then reaches the scene after contacting the Fire Department HQ. He is one of the rarest people who has been gifted a fireman’s uniform and



Kolkata is a city of fires. A total of 347 people died and 1,749 were injured in over 2,000 fires in 2014. Last year, there were more than 1,600 fires, leaving 143 people dead and 974 injured. No wonder the city's 1,258 firemen are among the most overworked in India.

However, the Kolkatta firemen have a very unlikely helping hand in Mr Bipin Ganatra, the wiry 59-year-old school dropout who has worked odd jobs all his life.

"You can say, I have only one interest in life. Fires." Look around his tiny flat, and you realise the austere bachelor is telling the truth.

Ganatra doesn't sleep much. He hunts fires by watching news on his TV – gifted by friends – all day and night. Whenever news breaks of a blaze, he calls up the fire brigade headquarters, gets into a taxi and goes to the site.


As a child, he would get all worked up whenever he heard the frantic, clanging bell of the speeding shiny red fire engines. He would run out of the door, chase the engines struggling to make their way through congested thoroughfares and lanes, and somehow manage to reach the scene.

"There my body language would change. I would watch the firemen do their work, offer help, hang around. It would give me a huge kick."

"He's a very spirited and brave man. For someone who has no formal knowledge of fire-fighting, he does a very good job. He is like a guide to our firemen, and he uses our equipment. He works almost like a professional now," says Gour Prasad Ghosh, the city fire service chief.

Reminiscing about his first brush with fire-fighiting, Mr Ganatra said he was working as a mechanic in a city school in 1976 when he heard that a big bank in the office district was on fire. He slipped out during the recess and ran to the fire scene where he helped carry water pipes from the scene to a pond in the neighbourhood and checked them for leaks.
The fire chaser hasn't looked back since.

In over 4 decades, he has attended to more than 100 fires – helping douse the flames, rescuing people and cleaning up debris. In fact, he has been a part of the fire fighting team in most of the iconic blazes of Kolkatta. Be it when the gas tanker keeled over on the city's iconic Howrah bridge in the early 1990s or when a 4-storey building caught fire on Canning Street he has made contributions to the team by saving lives, acting as a warning system or simply organising things to keep victims out of danger.


While fire maybe his passion, the blaze can be very unforgiving as Ganatra realised himself when he almost lost his life 5 years ago when he went into a burning warehouse on Strand Road. He had hauled out two gas cylinders from the place and re-entered with a hosepipe. On the way out, a tin shed collapsed on him, trapping him in the debris for close to two hours.
"The firemen outside thought I was dead. I had passed out and escaped with some bruises and recovered quickly in hospital. I was very lucky."

Sometimes the flames win overwhelmingly, leaving Mr Ganatra and his fellow firemen to pick up the dead. But there's no time to think of all this when the TV announces a new fire in the city.
Ganatra will quietly slip into the 21-year-old khaki uniform gifted by a fire official, put on his yellow plastic hat and safety torch bought by friends, pick up a heavy metallic volunteer identity card, presented by a former minister, and head out to the scene.

"I listen to the fire, and then I take her on. I pick up the hose. When the fire blows in my direction, I fall on the floor and let it blow over.
"You can never outrun the beast, you never can. You can only try to tame it.", says Ganatra in parting.

Image Courtesy: Ronny Sen




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