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HomeArticle/ FeaturesThe Dark Corridor of Kalupadaghat

The Dark Corridor of Kalupadaghat

Kalupadaghat is a place in khordha district of Odisha at a distance of 100 km from capital city, Bhubnaeswar. It is situated very nearer to the great Chilika Lake as if sitting in the lap of mother chilika. It is a small town having a Railway Station, Fish processing Industries, Fish Transportation depots and fish markets. Always crowded with fish merchants, Vendors, fishing boat owners & workers. Many tourists also visit this place to see the beauty, serenity & hear the unheard melodies of Chilika Lake. The flora and fauna of Chillika create an ambiance of peace and tranquillity for the tourist. The crackling sound of Siberian ducks, Cranes, Flamingos create an atmosphere of ecstasy. Many often I do visit Chilika at Kalupadaghat to enjoy such eternal grace of nature. But an unfortunate happening on mid-day of 25thJune, 1987 at Kalupadaghat remained as a dark inmemorioum in the memories of many for years to come.

Having been completed my diploma in Fire Engineering (STO course of training) from Odisha Fire & Disaster Response Academy, I was posted to Tangi Fire Station as a Station Fire Officer in the year 1985. Being a young man of 24 years old, I was enjoying my journey as a daring and fearless Fire Fighter at this initial stage of my Service career. I was feeling very proud to be a Fire Fighter. From very 1st day of my Service Career, I had shown no fear, no hesitation or no look back while combating emergency situation, may be fire, may be accident, may be rescue from captivity or disaster mitigation. Such fearless attitude was being appreciated by local people & administration. My place of posting (Tangi Fire Station) was just 3KM away from Kalupadaghat. Tangi Fire station was newly opened on 28th Feb 1985 & I was posted as Station Fire Officer to this new fire station, ironically a new Fire Station in the hands of a novice.

During that time Odisha Fire Service was very poor having insufficient rescue & life serving gears. The equipment available in Tangi Fire Station were a single piece ladder, Rope Ladder, Tow chain, life jackets, Fire Extinguishers, Shovel , Pick Axe, Spade & many such tiny gears meant for common emergency calls. In short Tangi Fire Station was not technologically equipped to combat major emergencies and disasters. As a beginner in the field of firefighting and rescue, having 0% experience, I was working like a mindless monkey in a jungle being stung by bees, jumping from branch to branch without knowing the cause & remedy.

It was a hot day of 25th June 1987, after accomplishing my office assignments, I left the Fire Station for my rented accommodation at 1.30PM & after lunch taking a short nap. My rented accommodation was just 1/4th KM of the Fire station. At about 2.30 hrs I got up hearing the roaring of Fire station Siren. Immediately I put my uniform & ran to the fire station & reached the station within 2 minutes & found the 1st turnout have already mounted the fire tender & about to leave. I occupied the officers’ seat and asked the Driver to move. On the way to incident site, I asked the driver what is the emergency? The old driver operator simply answered “gas leak” at Kalupadaghat. I asked which gas, he replied “doesn’t know”.

Anyway I saw people were rushing towards Tangi by their cycle, motor cycle &some by running. Within 4 minutes we reached the incident site. Immediately we got down from the vehicle and saw some dead bodies were lying in front of M/s. La-Glass Ice Factory, an unit of Surya Marine Fish Processing Industry. The vicinity of factory has turned smoky with huge presence of Ammonia gas. The people were gathered at about 100 mtr distance. No police, no other govt. officials were present. The death of workers had irked the locals who were angry & at their toes. The atmosphere at the site was like a pandemonium. Many people were crying, many shouting and many were running away from the site to save themselves.

The fear of death and danger was reigning the incident site. It seemed as if the public were waiting to feed fat their anger on innocent fire fighters, if we fail to contain the gas leakage & restore the situation. I being young, novice, unequipped was standing mute on a Cross Road i,e. what to do & what not to do. Some people who knew me, asked me not to venture towards the incident site without safety gears but these nos were very few. I was thinking, if I don’t do anything here, the people may turn into mob & attack us. So from the common sense, without wasting much time I asked my crew to pitch the pump near a water source & spray water over the factory Vicinity, Immediately spraying of water started but I couldn’t restrain my fearless daring emotion & entered into the Factory Premises without any PPE. Feel sorry to say that by that time there was not a single BA set available in Odisha Fire Service & what about eye shield, proximity suit, Ammonia Suit etc.

A brave, fearless young fire fighter entered into an ammonia leakage site just naked i,e. without helmet, without gumboot, without BA set, without ammonia suit. When I reached the main entrance to the corridor and peeped in, I found the inside dark and deep and filled with Ammonia Gas. The corridor was not clearly visible. I could manage to see some people were lying unconscious on the floor. Though I tried once and again to reach the victims but could not be successful due to presence of Ammonia gas with high percentage.

My head reeled, my throat chocked & I was about to fall but I could manage to come out to a safe distance, took few minutes to control & compose myself. People lying dead in my front & some were struggling to survive & waiting for rescue in Front of my eyes but without safety gears I was unable to enter and execute the rescue. The fearless fire fighter was restless within and searching for ways and means to save the valuable lives struggling to survive few yards away from him. He was not worry about his self-safety, not worry about the crowd reaction and not worry about the looming danger apprehending ahead but he was only worry about how to save the valuable human lives from the clutches of death. In the meantime one worker of the factory informed me “Sir there is an emergency door at the back & you can try that”.

So without giving a second thought I proceeded to the backside of the factory & found a window with wooden doors without railing, which was locked from inside. We both broke the wooden doors & I peeped inside & found three ladies were lying on the dark corridor & froth was coming out of their mouth. Immediately I pulled the cloth of the worker from his head and put it on my face & jumped into the processing hall of the factory. I carried the gas victims on my shoulder one by one & handed over to the said worker through that so called emergency window. All the three victims were rescued through that emergency window. I asked the people to shift the rescued victims to nearest hospital in fire service vehicle.

After few minutes I heard the “ding dong” sound of fire tender & be confirmed that victims have been shifted to medical. Then I directed the leading fire man to spray water inside the corridor to liquefy the poisonous gas. After the gas was subdued to some extent, I searched for the leakage & found that the plate freezer was installed near the gate. I carefully & slowly went nearer to the plate freezer & found one rubber hosepipe had slipped from its metal end & gas was coming out. Immediately I put the hosepipe to its base but couldn’t fit it to its place as there was no screw driver or other suitable tool available to tighten it to its base.

So I pull away the cloth from my face, put it on water & tied it on the leaking hosepipe strongly thinking the further leakage will be liquefied coming in contact with the wet cloth. After being confirmed that leakage have been stopped, I searched for the main storage tank & stopped the main valve. By that time local police & civil administration had reached the site & was waiting for me. The moment I came out of the factory, wet, tired and suffered with withered gesture, all people including press and public gathered & asked me about the inside story.

When I said all victims have been rescued and the gas leakage has been stopped and now the locality is out of danger, everybody applauded my effort including my own staff who were at a Safe distance. I returned to FS with utmost satisfaction & pleasure feeling that “Yes we did it”. It was a proud moment. It became a head news in the print media & I became a face in the crowd overnight. Everybody was praising the work of this young officer. I was quite happy after such successful operation. The pleasure I felt was over powering the pain I sustained during such operation. I could able to do such because I was young, ignorant and novice. I am sure no fire engineer with safety knowledge would have dared to enter into a gas affected vicinity, where many people have already died, without PPE.

After I reached office, I took a heavy shower, took some hot food & went to the hospital to know about the victims and came to know that total 14 people were working in the factory out of which 7 people had already died & three ladies worker were alive & had been despatched to khordha district hospital for treatment. Out of seven dead victims one was manager, one was factory worker and five lady workers.

The lady workers were from kerala & doing prawn processing in La-Glass Ice Factory. Any way I returned to my fire station. But after half an hour my eyes became red, my right side chick became red and seen pulled. There were burise marks at different places of my body especially neck area.

My throat was swelling and causing respiratory problem. Immediately my staff shifted me to Hospital and the local physician referred me to S.C.B Medical collage Cuttack, where I was treated for 15 days. In between the matter was inquired by Odisha Crime Branch under the charge of one DSP & by district administration also. During enquiry, it was surfaced that because of brave, courageous & timely act of Station Fire Officer of Tangi Fire Station many valuable lives were saved & the leakage of Ammonia gas was stopped & the entire locality was saved from an impeding danger.

As such a departmental enquiry was instituted and having been established as an act of bravery, my name was nominated for award of President’s Fire Service Medal for gallantry which was decorated on me on 26th January 1991. As a young Batchelor officer, I became 3rd personal of Odisha Fire Service to get such accolade & now after retirement getting Medal allowance with my pension & recalling those days as look back to feel good during my solitary times.


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