India

Bipin Ganatra: India 'fire chaser' awarded

Bipin Ganotra Image copyright Ronny Sen
Image caption Bipin Ganatra is not a professional fireman

Bipin Ganatra, a volunteer fire-fighter who was featured in a BBC series from India last year, has been given a prestigious government award.

Mr Ganatra has been awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award for "rescuing people whenever there is fire, often putting himself in danger".

He told the BBC that he "just wanted to continue doing my work" in the eastern city of Kolkata.

Mr Ganatra has attended more than 100 fires over four decades.

The 60-year-old was featured in Unsung Indians, a BBC series on people working to improve the lives of others.

Image copyright @Frank Noronha

A school dropout who worked odd jobs before becoming a volunteer fireman, Mr Ganatra has doused flames, rescued people and cleaned up debris.

He has been described as a "fire-chaser": he hunts fires by watching news on his TV all day and night.

Whenever news breaks of a blaze, he calls up the fire brigade headquarters, gets into a taxi and goes to the site.

"I am an ordinary person and am completely overwhelmed by the news. I don't want to make it a big issue. I just want to continue doing my work," Mr Ganatra told the BBC on Thursday.

"I worry whether I will be able to honour the award. It is such a big responsibility".

There were more than 1,600 fires in Kolkata in 2015, leaving 143 people dead and 974 injured.

Image copyright Ronny Sen
Image caption Mr Ganatra has attended to more than 100 fires
Image copyright AFP
Image caption There were more than 1,600 fires in Kolkata in 2015

The city's 1,258 firemen are among the most overworked in India. Mr Ganatra is also seldom out of work - he has attended as many as three fires in a single day.

Earlier this week, Mr Ganatra entered a burning warehouse in central Kolkata through an entry in the ceiling and helped remove plastic goods stored there.

"He's a very spirited and brave man. For someone who has no formal knowledge of fire-fighting, he does a very good job. He is like a guide to our firemen, and he uses our equipment. He works almost like a professional now," a senior fire service official told the BBC last year.

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