Go to contents

Fire Kills 3; Firehouse Only 600m Away

Posted February. 11, 2006 06:33,   


A blaze that started in the house of the Jo family in Ssangyong5-ri, Yeongwol-gun, Gangwon Province at 06:12 p.m. on February 9, claimed the lives of three children: their six year-old daughter, her friend Yoo, 7, and Yoo’s four year-old sister. The children were the only persons in the house at the time.

Mr. and Mrs. Jo, who run a private tutoring institute, were not at home. Yoo called 119 (Korea’s 911) and said urgently, “There is a fire in the shoe drawer.”

The Yeongwol Fire Department dispatcher asked if there were any adults present. When she answered that there were none, the dispatcher told her “Get out of the house as quickly as possible. Yell outside that there is a fire.”

Because the fire had started in the entrance of the room, the children could not get out. Yoo asked, “There is a window, do we throw anything at the window?” When told yes, Yoo hung up.

When the window would not break Yoo once again called 119, saying, “[The fire] is getting bigger, please come quickly.” Yeongwol Fire Station ordered the nearest fire station branches in Jucheon and Ssangyong to respond.

Was the Response Appropriate?—

According to Yeongwol Fire Station records, the fire truck arrived at 6:19 p.m. In other words, it took seven minutes for the Ssangyong Fire Station, which is only 600 meters from Jo’s house, to arrive at the scene.

Dong-A Ilbo analyzed fires in six cities, including Seoul, and pointed out that the possibility of a “flashover,” or a fire that spreads to the point that an ordinary person cannot extinguish it, is very high if firefighters do not arrive less than five minutes after the initial report.

Ssangyong Fire Department Branch firefighter Kim, who responded to the scene, explained that his actual arrival time was three minutes after the call. He notified the fire department of his arrival a few minutes later because the blaze was spreading quickly and he had to evacuate nearby residents.

The fire was extinguished one hour later, after it had consumed the entire house. The three children, trying to escape from the fumes and flames ran to the living room and then to the bedroom. They were found dead between the bedroom bed and dresser.

One-Man Fire Department—

Fire departments manage fire department offices according to their area. If the jurisdiction area of one office is too large, they set up branches.

Nationwide there are 755 branches, with no particularly assigned personnel; firefighters take turns working in it. Usually, a two-person team will be on duty at the branch in 24-hour shifts.

Firefighter Kim, who went to put out the fire, was on duty alone at the Ssangyong branch on February 9. He received his orders, personally drove the fire engine and went to the scene.

He connected the fire extinguishing hose by himself, and extinguished the fire by himself. It is a system that makes it difficult to respond rapidly to fires. The National Emergency Management Agency stipulates in its regulations that at least four firefighters need to be assigned to one fire truck.