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Wasn’t Sungnyemun Enough?

Posted February. 22, 2008 01:27,   


The Wednesday night fire at the Central Government Complex, only 10 days after the devastating fire destroyed Sungnyemun, once again put pressure on the government to improve safety measures.

The government building was not equipped with basic automatic fire-fighting facilities such as sprinklers, just like Sungnyemun.

Government Administration and Home Affairs Vice Minister Choi Yang-sik, said, “The building was completed in 1970, so it doesn’t have sprinklers, and we have used heat-sensor devices for emergencies.”

Surprisingly, the building had another fire on the fourth floor in July 1999 which burned one office, but nothing has changed since then to prevent fire.

○ The central administrative building without safety measures

An unnamed official working at the building said, “Right after the 1999 fire, installing sprinklers was once considered, but the entire building needed to be renovated to set up sprinklers on all floors, so it was put off.”

Time delay was also a problem.

Kim (38), who first witnessed the fire, called 911 10 minutes after having tried to put out the fire with fire extinguishers with his co-workers.

A fire-fighter said, “When we arrived at the scene, the fire was at its peak, if Kim had called earlier, the scale of damage could have reduced.”

Critics point out the government officials’ laxity is also a major cause of this fire.

According to the result of the recent check-up on fire prevention conducted on Feb. 5, low-quality heaters and electric chair cushions had been used, showing fire-prevention measures were not properly established.

One official who conducted the check-up said, “While checking the plugs and switches of electric appliances, many of them weren’t turned off, so we had to collect electric cushions and small heaters from offices that were prohibited.”

He added, “Although people are not allowed to bring heating devices such as electric heat fans inside the building, they are not that cooperative.”

On this claim, one official at the Government Information Agency said, “After the central heating is turned off at 6 p.m., we feel very cold, so when many people work at night, some use electric heaters.

○ Electrical problems may have caused the fire

The police and fire authorities, which investigated the fire scene, suspect a short circuit or overheating may have caused the fire.

One official at the Jongno Fire Station said, “In many cases, employees in an office go home without turning off their heating devices. This fire may have been caused by overheating or a cigarette butt.”

Police also found a heater in Room No. 504, the office for the Government Policy Coordination (OPC) where the fire began.

The Korea Electrical Safety Corporation (KESCO) confirmed that a short circuit breaker had worked in the building.

It added, “We confirmed that the breaker had cut off power when the fire broke out, and this fact shows that a short circuit may have occurred.”

Police also said, “Arson is unlikely, and we are currently investigating public officers who returned home around midnight and OPC officials.”

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