Thursday, March 01, 2012

Running the last leg.

Yesterday began quite unusually for me. The day before, on 28th February, I had to visit my GP. We have all been stressed out the entire week on the occasion of the so-called "Entrance Exam"  to the 7th grade for my 12-year old son. I had to reach the school by 9am on the 29th Feb. My body translated all this stress by increasing my blood pressure a few notches above the usual. The doc asked me to take a break and relax. Sure. Why not?

That day, the  29th of Feb, 2012, would come to be known as the most exciting day in my life and the life of a three year old little boy named Justin.

I excused myself from the the usual ritualistic Sharjah-to-Dubai, bumper-to-bumper tribal dance and headed off to the Dubai via the E611. And  managed to get Suhail exactly 3 minutes before his exam.

12:10PM: Suhail’s exam was easy. I drove him back to Sharjah and reached home by around 1:20pm. We live on the first floor apartment of a 9-storied building. I was getting ready to have lunch with my son when the lady next door rang our door bell and timidly enquired If I  had heard any strange noises or anyone screaming from my bedroom toilet. I quickly went to the toilet and opened the small window that opened to the air vent. A gust of smoke entered the room and I heard a faint scream. My heart froze and knew immediately that there was someone in distress on a floor above ours. But it was impossible to know which floor. We went downstairs to the lobby, and to the watchman's room to alert him of the incident. I asked Suhail to remain on the Ground floor and rode the elevator up to the 9th floor and took the emergency stairs down checking each floor for signs of smoke.

The fire had broken out on a 6th floor apartment. Which happens to have the exact same layout as our apartment on the 1st floor.  A mission critical piece of information which was a great help later on.

Smoke was bellowing out through the door onto the corridor. Visibility was about a feet in front. By then a few more men had arrived and broke open the door that was bent out of shape from the intense heat.



I knew the location of the CO2 cylinder near the emergency exit. And most importantly I knew how to use and identify the cylinders. (Thanks to those day-long Civil Defense awareness campaigns held at Abu Dhabi Indian School back in 1988). Some men had dragged an elderly woman out on to the corridor. She was half unconscious and covered completely in soot. But she was moving. Someone was uncoiling the fire hose and turning on the water line. I instructed him to stop doing that, since the power supply to the apartment was still on, and would add on to the disaster. I pushed him off to the side and took hold of the black Co2 cylinder. I dragged it over to the door, probably stepping over the poor woman on the floor and came up to the apartment doorway. 


Smoke and soot was bellowing from the room. The men who came to help was leaving the room coughing and dragging the unconscious women with them away from smoke and fumes. I was running out of breath and my lungs felt compressed. Images of my mother flashed through my head. (She had extinguished a similar fire 20 years ago in Abu Dhabi). I was overcome with extra-ordinary strength, the sort of strength I got when I ran the last leg of those 400 meter relay races back in high-school. I entered the doorway; flames were emanating from a sofa in the centre of the living room. It was about two meters in the air. The rest of the room was just thick smoke. I aimed the nozzle at the base of the flames and squeezed the trigger, emptying some of the foam onto the flames. I could not stay there much longer, I had run out of breath and my heart was on over-drive. Images of my own children, Hannah Maya and Suhail, flashed in front of me. For a moment I even doubted if I was really doing any of this. I fell on the floor, where the air was much clearer and took a deep breath of air, some soot entered my mouth and I choked. The air was stale but felt much better, sweeter. I helped the men drag the heavy woman back to the stairway. More people had come over to help and we raced down to the ground floor.

We laid the woman on the floor below; And I slumped to the floor. Someone brought a bottle of water. I don’t remember if I took a sip. The woman was mumbling something in Malayalam. "Child" or "Children" !!!.

Oh crap!!!  “So there is a child in the flat !!!”  And then she said "Bathroom !!". I did not have the strength to take the stairs. Two men joined me and we took the elevator back to the 6th floor. Yeah I know you shouldn’t take the elevator during a fire, try telling that to my legs.

I removed my Shirt and covered my mouth and face. I asked the men accompanying me to do the same. I told them that we have to search the toilets as quickly as possible. The only source of light was our mobile phones. The elevator door opened and, I took a deep breath and raced towards the apartment. The power to the apartment had already been been turned off. It was pitch dark. The flames had died down but the fumes were thicker than before. It was as if I was diving under water, I could hear my heart beat. The mild illumination of our mobile phone were just that: Mild illuminations. The apartment is exactly the same as my apartment on the first floor. I did not need illumination to navigate through the rooms.  I stooped lower to breath the pockets of clear air that seemed to appear within  the clouds. I opened the guest toilet door. Nothing. The morbid fear of finding the charred remains of a child did pass my mind. But I was there to do a job. Find the child, dead or alive. I went in to the attached toilet in the master bed-room. The door was open but was pushing against something soft. 



The limp body of a child was blocking the door. I pulled and picked up the child by his leg. As soon as I had lifted him up, the child urinated, he was alive and moving, but unconscious. I held on to him, and stood there. My lungs were completely depleted of oxygen. There was nothing more to breath, I was out of strength and oxygen, but a strange sense of tranquility had settled on me. I could not hear anything.  I saw 32 Bit HDR colours in splashing brilliance. The crowds were cheering in Sh. Zayed Stadium, I saw the white parallel lanes of on rubberized tracks,  I could hear the panting breath and rhythmic footsteps of the runners behind me. And a voice inside me told me “Nishad !! the last 80 meters is just a few leaps away. Don't you drop that aluminium  baton boy, we are almost there”. I saw the thin white ribbon across the finish line and kept up the pace. But I wasn't running, I was hanging on to my heart from giving up. My legs moved towards the open door. And I came out through the corridor holding the child close to me. I stumbled towards the stairway, and took a deep breath of fresh air. The men pulled me on to the elevator.  I thought I would rather die climbing down the stairway than being stuck in a smoky elevator. The entire rescue would have happened in two minutes or less. But it seemed, to me,  like an entire hour. An hour of suffocation and near deathly struggle.

I reached the ground floor and laid the child out on the floor. He was struggling to breath, his eyes rolled  back. I held his nose and breathed into his open mouth. His chest rose and fell. I blew again and again. The child coughed and spat out thick black sputum. I breathed a sigh of relief and fell to my side. Some neighbours held the child and held his head to the side while I helped him breath. I looked and saw so many people had gathered around. Some calling the emergency services, some taking pictures. The Police had already arrived and was clearing the crowds, Civil Defense, and Ambulance service arrived within a few minutes and took the child along with me and a neighbour to the nearest trauma centre. The elderly woman was taken on a separate ambulance.

We arrived at the hospital and the waiting emergency team whisked the child away. I was deeply moved and overwhelmed with tears of happiness to see the child in safe hands. I knew for sure that he would be safe now. I did not know his name or his parents. But the authorities told me they would take care of everything. I was asked to go home and rest,  I looked like I had just stepped out of a coal mine. I was trembling and my BP was probably overshot.

Before I left I was allowed to see him in the ICU.  As of now the child is out of danger and is breathing on his own with some difficulty. The woman seems to be in a slightly worse condition. She has some breathing difficulty. The parents of the child wept and embraced me like some divine saviour. I am not used to such display of emotions. But I found myself weeping along with them. I was overcome by a strange feeling of achievement. An achievement I will surely cherish for the rest of my life.

Towards the end of all this commotion  I had completely forgotten about my blood pressure, the headache I was complaining about, and the minor back pain I had the previous day.

I still don’t know a lot of the details of how I managed to do any of the things I did. I don’t even know if most of the things I did was in that order. Everything is just a cloudy memory. Most of what I have written here is from what others told me of my actions. Friends and neighbours gathered later that evening and gave many accounts of what happened, and how I did those things. I still don’t know if at all I did any of those things.  



All what I could clearly remember was entering the smouldering apartment,  running a 400 meter relay race and returning back with an aluminium baton that I would not part with.

20 comments:

  1. Typical Nishad Hussain Kaippally Style...
    I am proud to have such a friend and big brother...

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  2. Great job well done bro....I remember the race of you running too in Shaikh Zayed stadium.... i am not too sure if any of us have that stamina or grit to do anything like that any more but yeah You have made every parent proud in doing what you have done for that child bro.....Salute you man...Cheers....As parents we feel every ounce for a child.....I pray he recovers soon....God Bless bro...

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    Replies
    1. @Balaji
      I never knew I could, I am quite sure we all can when the situation demands it. I only have my school and the rigorous training we were put through by Mr. Jaypal Raj, Mr Dey and Mr. Bangera. And of course those civil defence training camps which we though was just fun.

      I didn't ever imagine that all those little training sessions would come in handy 25 years later in life.

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  3. ശ്വാസമടക്കിപ്പിടിച്ചാണു മുഴുവനും വായിച്ചത്..അങ്ങേക്ക് അഭിനന്ദനങ്ങൾ:))

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  4. It takes more than being selfless to act sensibly during a crisis.I am really proud of you.. :)

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  5. We are proud of you Kaippally :)
    You are great !!! really great!!!..

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  6. Love you Kaippally..for being a brave humanist,that too with a mission impossible task...! It's really a miracle that every factor contributed positive towards this incident and for the child.The technical education that you had with the CO2 extinguisher and the braveness till you make sure that he is at the safe hands...Oh my..!

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  7. Thank you friends for you kind words. What this incident has taught me:

    1) We seldom take fire safety seriously.
    2) Do not block windows and balconies with furniture. Those are the only exits available during such an emergency.
    3) Do not let children play with lighters and chemicals.
    4) Schools should request the local Civil Defence/ Fire Brigade to provide fire drills. We should acquaint ourselves with first aid and emergency evacuation procedures. You never know when you may need those skills.

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  8. ഒരായിരം ആശംസകള്‍ എന്തെങ്കിലും ദേഷ്യം നിങ്ങളോട് മനസ്സില്‍ ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍ അതെല്ലാം ഇതോടെ തീര്‍ന്നു ,,,, നിങ്ങള്‍ ആണ് ആണ്‍കുട്ടി

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  9. Great Job!.. proud of you my friend!

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  10. കൈപള്ളി ഒരു ഉമ്മ

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  11. I don't know which one is great, your heroic deed or your narration. Well, it must be the former but the later is no less.

    It's easier to think about being brave than actually be it. Your timely act of bravery and the moving narration of it should inspire many, including me, to be a hero when time calls for it.

    BRAVO!

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  12. തകർപ്പൻ വിവരണം, കൈപ്പ്സ് :)

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ഇതെല്ലാം വായിച്ചിറ്റ് ഒന്നും പറയാനില്ലി?
ഇതിനെപറ്റി എന്തരെങ്കിലുമെക്ക പറ..