Mumbai Cop Doubles as Ambulance Driver to Ferry COVID Patients
Constable Tejesh Sonawane has been helping patients reach hospitals in time – without charging a penny.
"Last year was really bad. Many people died and several others are still suffering. Their plight moved me. Ambulances took time to reach and the private services overcharged the poor ill patients. At the time, I was posted in the Red Zone or hotspot district (areas where the doubling rate and caseload is alarmingly high), where I saw feeble and weary patients pass out on the pavement and it broke my heart. That is when I decided to turn an old car into an ambulance," said Tejesh Sonawane, a constable at Cuffe Parade police station.
When COVID was at its peak in 2020, little did the 34-year-old cop know that his vision would soon become reality.
Through a mechanic friend, the Nandurbar native managed to arrange an old Omni car to carry patients to hospitals for emergency treatment. After a basic makeover, the car was ready to ferry the sick. The emergency vehicle was well-sanitised with partitions inside for COVID and non-COVID patients as well as pregnant women.
His friend, Suresh Mali, who modified the car, did not charge any money for it, as did another mechanic who helped fix the car into a makeshift ambulance. Though it lacks a stretcher and oxygen support, it does the job of transporting patients to hospitals swiftly.
Running the service for free, Sonawane often rushes out of the police station on receiving a call to drop the patients to hospitals.
"Whether I am on duty or not, one call and I would wear my PPE kit, sanitise the vehicle once and take those in distress for treatment on time," he said.
Benefactor of Hope
His first patient was a pregnant woman from Backbay Depot, who had to be rushed to the hospital for her delivery. "She was in labour. I got an emergency call from some boys in the area who were aware that Cuffe Parade police has started this service. Since I was in the vicinity they called me, because waiting for a hospital ambulance would have taken longer," Sonawane recalls.
Till date, he has ferried 40 patients, going as far as Navi Mumbai, Koparkhairane and Andheri from his Colaba residence in South Mumbai.
The constable is a recipient of Jeevan Raksha Padak by the central government in 2015 and the DG medal for bravery in 2017. But the humble cop credits his wife for his success.
"My wife was petrified thinking I could contract the virus as I am a frontline worker. However, I could not put my family at risk, so I sent both my daughters away to live with my parents in the village. I asked my wife to leave as well, but she was firm on staying back with me. My wife is proud of the work I do and her constant support has really helped me achieve whatever I have wanted to in order to serve the needy and poor. Upon getting calls, I go at odd hours, even in the middle of the night during an emergency."
Mumbai Police shared his story on Twitter in a video which showed his journey as the “Omni-Present Covid Warrior”. “Health care workers come in all get-ups. Some wear aprons; while others, khaki—just like PC Tejesh Sonawane from Cuffe Parade PStn,” they tweeted, using the hashtag #AamhiDutyVarAahot (#WeAreOnDuty).
Sonawane is barely scared of contracting the virus on duty. "People expect us to be active so there is no time, chance or scope for fear and cowardice," he says.
After the lockdown restrictions were eased, Sonawane took a break from the ambulance service, but recognising the need for his service again, he says "I am ready to go. I will soon start serving people again. Actually, it is not a break, the work is still on as I get several calls even now, which I sometimes divert to the BMC doctors and hospitals."
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