They could have rescued many more had they not been turned away initially

Long after the rampaging flames at a private hospital here were put out, relatives of the patients seethed with rage as news came in that many lives could have been saved had the youths of nearby areas been allowed to evacuate them.

Cries for help from the patients brought many youths from the slums nearby to help in rescue operations long before the fire brigade reached AMRI Hospitals. But the hospital authorities tuned them away, saying the situation was under control.

At the rear of the smoke-engulfed building, some patients smashed the glasspanes and secured bed-sheets on the window sills to escape the toxic smoke which started building up in the wards.

Forcible entry

As the situation got out of hand and pleas for help grew more desperate, the boys tore down the boundary wall of the hospital and cut through the barbed wire fence to gain entry.

“I saw a woman who had managed to slide down till the first floor. After that, she lost her nerve and jumped,” said Abhijit Chakraborty, who rushed to help.

Finding it difficult to reach the patients on the top floors, the boys brought in some scaffolding from a building nearby. They climbed the precarious bamboo structure in pitch dark, trying to help those trapped inside climb out.

“Every time we broke open a window or stepped into a room, smoke was all we could see. The acrid fumes made our eyes burn. ,” said Sujit Kayal, a Class VIII student, who helped six patients get out of the windows to safety.

Once the fire brigade reached the spot, iron ladders and sky-lifts were available, but the boys stayed on to help in the evacuation. By then, most patients had choked to death. Sujit lost count of bodies he lifted out of the hospital.

“My mother called me up at 5 a.m. to tell me that there was smoke everywhere and that none of the hospital staff members was around. I rushed to the hospital only to find that she had fallen unconscious. I later learned that these boys had helped bring her out,” said the daughter of Mridul Guha Thakurta.