Two CAA firefighters, Abid Ali and Rizwan, were also among the dead rescuers. A year after the tragedy, the colleagues of Abid and Rizwan allegedly said that the Chief Fire Officer Anwaar Ahmed Ghauri had forced the young firefighters to enter into the ill-fated plaza.
They claimed that under fire safety standards, the rescue workers should not enter into any building which remained in blaze for four continuous hours. But these firefighters were sent into risky building even after 16 hours of blaze when there was no possibility of survivors. But the Fire Chief did not realize the situation and ordered the young firemen to either enter into the building, or otherwise get ready for termination.
The angry firefighters declared the CAA fire chief responsible for deaths of other eight fire fighters as after CAA rescuers entered into the plaza, rescuers from 1122 and Civil Defence also followed them, and soon after the building of the plaza collapsed.
Since then, CAA firefighters were demanding to hold a judicial inquiry for knowing the causes of death of their fellow colleagues, but the authority reportedly was reluctant to initiate any probe and wanted to close that chapter.
As the firefighters reportedly approached Supreme Court of Pakistan and Public Accounts Committee, the CAA management formed a committee to investigate the matter.
According to the available documents, Ishtiaq Ahmed Soomro, CAA Chief Fire Officer Lahore, has been appointed President of Board of Inquiry, while CAA senior officials Imran Ahmed and Muhammad Musharraf are also part of the said inquiry team. The inquiry committee had directed the members of the CAA Fire Party which was deployed on 20th December 2008 to douse fire at Gakhar Plaza to record their statements.
Besides informing the committee members and members of fire party, the letters with regards to holding the inquiry had also been circulated to the Airport Managers of Benazir Bhutto International Airport Islamabad, Allama Iqbal International Airport Lahore and Jinnah International Airport Karachi.
Ishtiaq Ahmed Soomro, the head of inquiry team, when contacted, said he had been assigned to conduct a departmental inquiry to ascertain causes of the death of two CAA firefighters.
He said it was also a matter of surprise for even himself as to why the inquiry was delayed for over two years. “I don’t know where to start the inquiry as besides CAA, other departments also took part in the fire-fighting operation,” he added. Soomro said that after a time of 26 months it would be very difficult for him to collect eyewitnesses’ accounts and evidences to conduct the inquiry.
He said the CAA fire-fighters arrived at the scene next morning and they were not told that the building was in blaze for whole night, therefore, fire team could not analyze that the plaza could collapsed at any time.
Soomro said Rescue 1122, Civil Defence and Rawalpindi Fire brigade also participated in fire-fighting and also suffered causalities of their firefighters. He said fire fighting was a noble cause and it should not be made controversial. He, however, said that once the inquiry was completed, its findings would definitely be shared with the media. Meanwhile, till CAA finalized decision to constitute the inquiry committee, the owner of Gakhar Plaza, Raja Shahid Zafar, has again built a ten-storey building at the same place, but with more sophisticated design. It is expected that the plaza would again be operational before third anniversary of firefighters’ death who scarified their lives to save the plaza.
Till then, the inquiry committee is also expected to have completed its work and its finding would also be made public. Though the aggrieved families of the firefighters’ had suffered irreparable loss, the inquiry might give them a true picture of what actually happened to their loved ones. Here, it is also equally important to mention that as the construction of new Ghakhar Plaza is in the final stages, the owner of the plaza, Raja Shahid Zafar, should not only address affected families’ concerns who had lost their valuable business, but also honor the sacrifices made by the deceased firefighters. He may dedicate a corner or other suitable space in the plaza in memory of these firefighters, and, at the same time, enabling their family members to earn their livelihood.