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Quick-Thinking 10-Year-Old Saves lives in Parel Blaze

By Leurelle Godinho and Karen Laurie
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Mumbai, Aug. 27. Smoke - intoxicating smoke - a panic-stricken family, frantic screams, prayers, and cries of chaos greeted ten-year-old Zen Sadavarte, as she was abruptly rushed out of bed at 7.45 am on August 22. Thick soot-filled smoke had entered her bedroom, her parents ushered the family to the kitchen, where they opened the window for clean air, but what they found was smoke, more smoke.
The fire - that had broken out on the 12th floor of their building - had already killed four of their neighbours. Frantic calls were made for fire services, within minutes the sound of fire brigade sirens joined with the wales of anguish coming forth from the 16-storey building. As the minutes passed by, it grew clear that the fire services alone could not rescue those stranded.
Who would help? How? When?

Cries for help were answered from unexpected quarters! 10-year-old Sadavarte - a student of Don Bosco International School in Mumbai, came to the fore. She first shared her fire-safety knowledge with her parents and then with the other three neighbouring families present.

She then tore clothes into smaller pieces, soaking them with water to make an air purifier of sorts to be placed over their noses and faces to keep carbon away. She then urged them to place wet cloth over their bodies to keep cool. Her instructions worked and bought those present time to stay safe, while the fire brigade carried out the rescue.

''That morning, I wasn't woken up by my parents, I was woken up because of the smoke which entered my room and because of so much suffocation I had to get up, and it was about 7:45 in the morning.''

''Actually first, what we did was we ran into the kitchen, but in the kitchen, it was more suffocating than anywhere else in the house, but we thought it would be much safer but it was not. We opened the window in the kitchen and a big cloud of smoke entered inside and so we had to go outside at our neighbours house. In their house, there was a little bit less smoke and fewer things that could be inflamed by fire,'' Sadavarte, said.

Whilst in school, two years earlier, she had conducted a research project on disaster management. Through her research, she had learned about the anatomy of fire and methods of dealing with a fire situation. Her hard work had paid dividends.

''Basically, what happened is in grade three at school, as I studied in PYP (Primary years programme), there were subjects that were given to us, which we had to research and learn. There here was a teacher called Miss Snehal Gujjar, I had asked her about disasters, since there were a lot of disasters in the world at that time; in Japan, the great tsunami, and in America there was Hurricane Katrina in 2012.''

''So, I went to my teacher and asked her - I was really little at that time - 'What can we do about these disasters? How can we match them?' So she told me, 'Why don't you go and research, and tell us what you think or what can we do'.''

So the first thing, I took a lot of assistance from my teachers and researched on what you are supposed to do about casualties, there's a lot of smoke when the fire goes on, even floods, everything. That's why the credit goes to my teachers. So the whole idea of the mask came from my research,'' she said.    

Sadavarte's composure and ability to keep calm helped save her family and neighbours from disaster. It bought them precious time, till the fire brigade personnel could reach them and usher them to safety. While her parents are proud of their ten-year-old, for saving the day, her school - where she learned the life-saving techniques - is proud as well.

''Now, this is a case of a child who has actually adhered to what we have spoken about in school and used it. That is what I feel, that whatever skill is taught in school is going to help you somewhere in your life, but only if you take it seriously,'' Meena Saldanha, the Principal, said.

Father Crispino D'Souza, Rector of the school, reflected on the teaching methodology adopted by the institution, which helps students deal with real-life situations. ''It is a very proud feeling, it validates all that you do in the school. So when things like this happen you feel consoled that there is some fruit achieved with all that you do in the school and the hard work that is put in by the staff. Normally you get publicity for the wrong things that happen. We use International Baccalaureate (IB) methodology and PYP programmes, where we make the children research on different topics, it's very different from the rote method,'' Father D'Souza, said.

While the blazing inferno in Parel destroyed homes, livelihoods and took lives, what the fire could not accomplish was dent the composure of a ten-year-old with nerves of steel.
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