Waterloo family used Indian saris as rope to escape apartment fire

February 26, 2013 - All News

WATERLOO — Parents who threw their two young children to safety from the fourth-floor window of their burning apartment building say they were prepared to die, but they were determined their children would live.
Jameer Basha Shaik and his wife, Jubeda, talked about the nightmare they endured as deadly smoke seeped under their apartment door on Jan. 26, making the living room window the only escape route from their apartment at 57 Bridgeport Rd.
Their 20-month-old daughter Arshia and her 8-year-old sister Alisha had been playing in the living room when the fire alarm started ringing.
Jameer opened the door to the hallway. He was forced back by “very huge, dark, thick smoke and some sparks.”
“I could not see anything,” he said Monday night from the family’s new apartment in Waterloo.
“The kids started fainting. We lost hope,” he said.
“I understand there is no way to escape. There is no other option left.”
“(Jubeda) asked me to save the kids at least — to lose something to save our kids’ lives. Both of us realize we won’t live. We had a lot of cough.”
He picked up a chair and smashed the living room window.
He shouted for neighbours and friends to call 911. The family waited to be rescued, but Jameer realized there was no more time.
He asked people below to get a blanket to catch his children. The couple had no time to make a rope from one of Jubeda’s saris.
All his neighbours, many of whom are co-workers at BlackBerry, could find in a hurry was a bedsheet.
“So I dropped my elder daughter carefully,” he said. “I just hold her and I drop.
“She landed on the bedsheet. My colleagues were able to catch hold of her.”
But because of the force with which she landed, she hit the ground. Pieces of glass from the shattered window cut her arm and finger.
“After that I dropped my younger one,” Jameer said. “One of my colleagues, he missed his grip and lost his hold.”
The child barely skimmed the sheet before hitting the ground. She was bleeding profusely. It turned out she had three skull fractures and was rushed to a Toronto hospital in critical condition.
By then, police had arrived. Jameer credits an officer with saving the life of his 20-month-old daughter by performing first aid until paramedics arrived.
An officer told the parents not to jump. Firefighters arrived, put up a ladder and climbed up to rescue the couple.
Jubeda was “in a panic and not in a position to come down from that height” without help, Jameer said.
Arshia was flown by air to Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto where she spent nine days. The first few days were the worst. They were told it would be 72 hours before doctors knew if she would survive.
She had two blood clots “between the skull layer and the brain layer.” She was put on a ventilator.
Her father recalls the first time he saw her in hospital.
“It was like a nightmare for me and I never forget that in my lifetime, lying on the bed with the tubes,” he said. “She was an innocent playing girl.”
By noon the next day, she woke up and looked to her father.
“Drops of water were coming out of her eyes,” he said. “She could not speak. There was huge swelling on her head.
“I told her I am here and nothing would happen.”
The couple left their older daughter with a friend so Jubeda could be in Toronto.
Arshia improved and the ventilator was removed. Doctors warned she could lose her memory or her voice, or have a spinal injury. But none of that happened.
Her skull fractures turned out to be just cracks. There was “no displacement,” Jameer said.
Just when all looked good, she took a turn for the worse. She struggled to breathe because of the smoke inhalation. Specialists were called in and she was rushed back to critical care.
But the medications worked. Doctors said her wounds will heal on their own. She goes for follow-ups several times a month.
The older daughter doesn’t remember anything after seeing her father break the window.
“I thought the fire was going to come inside, but it didn’t,” Alisha said. “We can’t see anything in our house. They throwed me and my sister down. When I looked down, I was really scared. I closed my eyes.”
A total of 83 tenants were evacuated when fire fire swept through the building. Just eight apartments in the 47-unit complex were seriously damaged. Many tenants had returned almost two weeks later.
The fire started in the kitchen of a second-floor unit. Damage was estimated at $1 million.
Jameer came to Waterloo from India in October 2010. He works for an Indian company that sent him to work for BlackBerry as a software engineer. He’s here on a work permit.
The couple wants to thank everyone whose help made them feel like they were at home in India.
“We never felt like we were in a foreign country,” Jameer said.
— Torstar News Service