x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Firefighters make dramatic rescue

Emergency crews carried out a daring rescue after a fire broke out on a crane working on the 16th floor of an apartment block.

ABU DHABI // Emergency workers risked their lives in a daring rescue yesterday when they walked along the arm of a burning crane 16 floors up to reach the operator, trapped while trying to escape. The Indian worker was forced to climb out of the cabin of his crane and stay there for nearly three hours after the fire took hold at around 3.30pm. Ashok Kumar, 32, from Punjab, emerged unhurt but shaken after his terrifying ordeal and was then reunited with his brother and co-worker, Baru das Chahal, at the roadside below. Mr Kumar spoke by mobile phone as he waited anxiously for firemen to put out the flames and reach him. As he was buffeted by high winds more than 75 metres off the ground, he said: "I can see the fire creeping. I have no more fear left. If I am to die, then it will be the will of God. I am fine for now but I am thinking of my doll, my daughter at home." Three firemen scaled the vertical leg of the crane before walking the length of the horizontal arm to reach Mr Kumar. They then dressed him in protective clothing and strapped him into a harness before lowering him to the 14th floor, where he crossed a wooden platform to the block of flats. Mr Kumar was then escorted down stairs inside the building, which is under construction. He was taken to an ambulance for a health check and then reunited with his brother. "I am fine now. I can breathe better and really I wasn't hurt at all," he said as he was being checked by paramedics. The father of one had been moving materials at the high-rise building on Airport Road, close to the junction with Delma Street, when he first noticed smoke. Emergency teams said initial reports suggested the fire had been caused by an electrical problem, although Mr Kumar said he noticed the fire only because the wind changed and blew smoke in his direction. After initially taking refuge in his cabin, he moved on to the crane's arm because he had run out of options. He said: "I couldn't possibly get down, could I?" Mr Kumar has worked in construction for a decade and moved to the UAE in 2004. He began working as a crane operator three years ago. His brother, 39, who works as a carpenter and foreman on the building site, was comforted by friends and colleagues as he watched the rescue unfold. "I am very frightened. I am worried for him. I spoke to him on the phone and he said he was not hurt," he said. Scores of onlookers crowded around police barriers at the base of the building, while officers shut down part of Airport Road and diverted traffic away from the site. Around 200 labourers had been working on the building project, which was being carried out by Shield Contractors and is due to be completed by the end of the year. Abu Dhabi Police Lieutenant Khaled al Badi, who oversaw the rescue, said the authorities were alerted to the fire shortly after 3.30pm. "We immediately dispatched a full platoon of 34 men to tackle the situation," he said. Two fire engines were deployed at the scene along with two fire and rescue support vehicles and a hydraulic platform. Ahmed Jheir, 29, a site engineer on the project, said he was delighted that his colleague had been brought down safely. "I am just relieved it is all over and Ashok is safe," he said. "As soon as I saw the flames I called the police and told all my men to get out of the building. "Ashok is a good worker. All my labourers are very good. Everyone was worried about him and was relieved when he came down." The Indian worker was forced to climb out of the cabin of his crane and stay there for nearly three hours after the fire took hold at around 3.30pm. Ashok Kumar, 32, from Punjab, emerged unhurt but shaken after his terrifying ordeal and was then reunited with his brother and co-worker, Baru das Chahal, at the roadside below. Mr Kumar spoke by mobile phone as he waited anxiously for firemen to put out the flames and reach him. As he was buffeted by high winds more than 75 metres off the ground, he said: "I can see the fire creeping. I have no more fear left. If I am to die, then it will be the will of God. I am fine for now but I am thinking of my doll, my daughter at home." Three firemen scaled the vertical leg of the crane before walking the length of the horizontal arm to reach Mr Kumar. They then dressed him in protective clothing and strapped him into a harness before lowering him to the 14th floor, where he crossed a wooden platform to the block of flats. Mr Kumar was then escorted down stairs inside the building, which is under construction. He was taken to an ambulance for a health check and then reunited with his brother. "I am fine now. I can breathe better and really I wasn't hurt at all," he said as he was being checked by paramedics. The father of one had been moving materials at the high-rise building on Airport Road, close to the junction with Delma Street, when he first noticed smoke. Emergency teams said initial reports suggested the fire had been caused by an electrical problem, although Mr Kumar said he noticed the fire only because the wind changed and blew smoke in his direction. After initially taking refuge in his cabin, he moved on to the crane's arm because he had run out of options. He said: "I couldn't possibly get down, could I?" Mr Kumar has worked in construction for a decade and moved to the UAE in 2004. He began working as a crane operator three years ago. His brother, 39, who works as a carpenter and foreman on the building site, was comforted by friends and colleagues as he watched the rescue unfold. "I am very frightened. I am worried for him. I spoke to him on the phone and he said he was not hurt," he said.

chamilton@thenational.ae sbhattacharya@thenational.ae