Fire Officer of Mumbai Fire Brigade Umesh Palande gets President’s Medal for Gallantry

Along with other recipients Dy CFO Yashwant Jadhav, Leading Fireman Tukaram Patil and Fireman Satish Shingade, he saved precious lives during the Kesarbai Chawl building collapse with great courage and sense of duty.

When a man becomes a fire-fighter his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work. 48-yearold Umesh Palande, Senior Station Officer with the Mumbai Fire Brigade stands true to this dictum. His act of extraordinary bravery has been recognized with Fire Service Medal for Gallantry on August 15 last along with four others of the MFB.

The recipient of the Golden Jubilee Medal of Independence of India in Year – 2002 and thrice the winner of the Municipal Commissioner “Silver Medal for Extra-ordinary Bravery”, Palande has won several other awards/ honors and prizes in his distinguished career of 20 years. The Ministry of Home Affairs had recommended his name for the coveted award for the President’s Medal for his act of bravery during the Kesarbai Chawl collapse tragedy in south Mumbai’s congested Dongri on July 16, 2019.

On that day around 11.41 hrs an emergency call was received by the Memonwada Fire Station that the entire Kesarbai building comprising the ground + three upper floored wooden/steel framed, brick walled, A.C. sheet-roofed structure had collapsed and around 40-45 inmates including some pedestrians had been trapped under the debris. The entire West side portion of the building had collapsed converting the structure into a heap of approximate 15-20 feet high debris admeasuring 150 square meters while the walls, roof and flooring towards the East hung precariously at various floor levels. Horizontal and vertical cracks were observed over the remaining parts of the building.

Almost all inmates, then estimated around 25- 30 including some children, were trapped. The Mumbai Fire Brigade immediate launched a Search & Rescue operation with the help of locals. The situation categorized as Level II House Collapse called for additional help of crew and resources. 18 persons that included 8 males, 7 females and 3 children were rescued in the initial operation, rendered first aid and sent to J J Hospital.

Following complete assessment of the site, it was put under Level III House Collapse by 12.25 hrs. The Search & Rescue Operation continued under the guidance of CFO P S Rahangdale and with the help of canine search and NDRF personnel. Around 23.45 hrs the night shift crew under the supervision of Deputy CFO Y R Jadhav & Palande started Search & Rescue Operation. There was a male whose legs were visible but the upper body was severely trapped under the main girder and the debris. The officials deployed a metal cutter to rescue him. It was a tricky situation since it could the life of rescuers and led to collapse of the remaining and adjoining structure. Jadhav and Palande successfully managed to pull down the precariously hanging channels and beams safeguarding the crew as well as the trapped victim. It also reduced the risk factor involved in the operation.

Even as the beams and channels were pulled down, the officials heard the feeble voice of a women crying for help. They immediately stopped the work at hand and began to locate the victim. Apparently the voice seemed to be coming from the debris about 10 ft away from the search cavity. After widening the cavity and assessing the risk Palande and Fireman Satish Shingade barged in. Now the trapped female could be heard clearly and the team started conversing with her to find her exact location using torchlight. She responded by saying she was Halima Idris and she was with her two children Arbaz Idris and Shehzad Idris. She was trapped in the exit passage between the slab of fi rst & second floor.

Palande, Fireman Tukaram Patil and Fireman Satish Shingade dug the void and cleared major portion of the debris with bare hands and fireman’s axe. They could see her fingers from the rubble. She managed to hold on to the rescuers’ hands with her fingers, screaming that her two kids were adjacent to her. The rubble around her was removed quickly. Now the heads of both the kids were visible. The kids were extricated first and sent to J J Hospital. By this time the woman whose upper part had become visible had her legs trapped under the girder. She was stuck between the sidewall and concrete slab. The slab was broken down to make space for her. The rescuers then dug the front side under the direction of Deputy CFO Jadhav. The rescuing of her trapped legs took almost an hour but as she was in considerable pain, medicare was provided by on-site doctors. Finally the trapped victim Halima Idris was rescued rendered first aid by onsite Doctors and removed to J J Hospital.

For the rescue team, the nature of occupancy, difficult access, and logistics of recourses was difficult and risk factors were very high. But with their presence of mind, courage and professional skills helped them save precious lives. The department appreciated his conscious gallantry, exemplary courage and devotion to duty and recommended his name for the Medal.

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