Once he learnt that a fire had broken out in the building, Shariful Islam on the ninth floor of FR Tower told his colleagues to run out to safety. But they could not as black smoke already had engulfed the staircases.
So they went to the washroom and broke the window grille with iron rods and a fire extinguisher, planning to reach a window of the adjacent Ahmed Tower.
“Time was running out … I warned my colleagues that we have at best 10 to 12 minutes left,” said Shariful, a senior manager of Aamra Technologies, as he was narrating their story of survival before two probe bodies at a mass hearing yesterday.
They were not able to break the window grille of Ahmed Tower.
Luckily, some of his colleagues, who were outside at the time, could be reached over phone. They went up to the ninth floor of Ahmed Tower and made an opening in the window through which Shariful and at least 30 of his colleagues moved to safety.
The probe bodies, one formed by the home and the other by disaster management and relief ministry, arranged the hearing to find out the cause of fire and ways to prevent recurrence of such incidents.
The committees recorded statements of at least 24 survivors, including some security guards of the FR Tower, where a deadly blaze claimed 26 lives on Thursday.
In his statement, Shariful's colleague Mostafa Kamal Chowdhury said he could not recall any fire drill since Aamra Technologies shifted to the FR Tower in 2007.
Ramzan Ali, a security guard, was on duty on the ground floor on the fateful day. Around 12:30pm, he first came to know of a “fire that originated on the seventh floor”.
“I could go up to the sixth floor with a fire extinguisher and alerted everyone. After that I could not climb further as smoke already filled the stairs,” Ramzan told reporters after giving his statement to the probe bodies.
Aslam Hossain, another security guard of the adjacent building, said he saw smoke on the seventh floor beside a pipe of an air conditioner around 12:30pm.
“After two to three minutes, glasses of two windows shattered with a bang and I saw fire raging through the window… People were panicking and rushing to come down. I saw four people sliding down cables and two of them died by falling,” he added.
All the 24 witnesses, who spoke at the mass hearing, said they didn't hear any fire alarm on that day and never saw any fire drill at that 23-storey building.
'FIRE ORIGINATED ON 7THE FLOOR'
At a press briefing later in the afternoon, Faizur Rahman, an additional secretary of the ministry of disaster management and relief, said most of the survivors mentioned that the fire originated on the seventh floor and it could be from an electrical short-circuit.
“No fire alarm rang that day while the emergency staircase at the building was narrow and several exit doors were found locked during the incident,” said Faizur, who heads one of the probe bodies.
He added, “We didn't find any witnesses from the seventh floor.”
However, after the two-hour hearing ended around noon, two employees of Spectra SN Tex Ltd, housed on the seventh floor of FR Tower, came and talked to the reporters.
They claimed that the fire did not originate from their floor.
“Only we two were at the office then and seeing smoke on the staircase, we hurriedly got down and escaped,” said Mainuddin Badhan, a commercial officer of the buying house, adding that six employees used to work at that office. 5547787//