Bangladesh Fire Service: Of valour and selflessness

At least 9 firefighters lay down their lives
Firefighters dead in CTG depot fire
Firefighters looking at the torn clothes of their fellow, who died trying to douse the flames at the BM Container Depot on Saturday night. The photo was taken yesterday. Photo: Rajib Raihan

They are the ones who run towards danger when others run from it. Be it a fire, explosion, road accident, landslide, launch capsize or other natural or manmade calamities, these first responders rush to the spot selflessly.

On some occasions, the firefighters risk their lives climbing to high spots to douse fires in multi-storey buildings; on other, they dive deep into rivers to retrieve swollen bodies.

On Saturday night, when a fire triggered a massive explosion at BM Container Depot in Chattogram's Sitakunda the firefighters were among the first ones to die.

Nine were killed and 15 others were injured. Three firefighters have been missing since the massive blasts.

The loss of so many lives in a single incident is unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence.

As videos and photos of the aftermath of the explosion did the rounds on social media, people of all walks mourned the demise of the heroic firefighters.

So badly were their bodies burnt in the explosions that they were hard to recognise. Parts of the uniform they held so dear and wore with such pride lay strewn about the spot along with their body parts.

Eight of the heroes were identified  as Rana Mia, Moniruzzaman, Alauddin, Shakil Tarafdar, Mithu Dewan, Nipon Chakma, Ramjanul Islam and Salauddin Kader Chowdhury. It was not possible to identify the other uniform-clad body, according to the media cell of the fire service.

Just over a month ago, Moniruzzaman had become the father of a precious girl. In April, he joined Kumira Station, leaving his wife and daughter in the capital. He left with a promise to his wife that he would be back to visit them shortly.

That hope was shattered on Saturday night by the blast at the BM Container Depot.

Moniruzzaman was killed in the chemical explosion while on duty along with other firefighters at the depot.

"It's not death; it's patriotism, self-sacrifice…," wrote Shahidul Sumon, a station officer at Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence, on his Facebook page.

"A few days ago, when I had a high fever, Moniruzzaman put his hand on my head and said, 'Sir, nothing will happen to you, you will get well soon'. Although I recovered quickly, Moniruzzaman did not come back … How many memories, how many times we extinguished fires together! May God bless the families of all the victims."

Mashroof Hossain, an additional superintendent of police, wrote on his Facebook page: "If there are any unsung hero among the emergency services in Bangladesh, they are our firefighters. In my 12 years of service, I have seen how they work with the utmost dedication, courage and self-sacrifice."

Hailing their valiant efforts, many on Facebook wrote that the firefighters are the real heroes, and that heroes never die.

A total of 25 units of the fire service were working to control the deadly fire as of last night.

A fire service official said 22 firefighters were sent to the spot as part of the first response team. One of the reasons behind the huge casualties is that the fire service was not informed about the chemicals in the containers, he said.

Shariful Hasan, a columnist, wrote in a Facebook post: "Salute to the firefighters. They went to control the fire and got injured. But they were not informed about the huge amount of chemicals there. I don't know if the fire service has ever lost so many people in one incident. I pay tribute to these people."

Talking to The Daily Star, Fire Service and Civil Defence Director General Brig Gen Md Main Uddin said there have never been so many deaths of firefighters in one incident.

"I've been working with the fire service for almost 25 years. In all these years, I have never seen so many deaths in a fire incident."

Since 1981, at least 17 firefighters have died while on duty, with at most one firefighter perishing in a single incident, according to the media cell of the fire service.

But Saturday's explosion produced a grim new record, claiming the lives of nine courageous men who did not think twice before laying it all on the line for the safety of others.