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Icicle-picking firefighters

Posted January. 14, 2013 04:45,   


Hanyang, the capital of the Joseon Dynasty and now called Seoul, saw strong northwestern winds on Feb. 15, 1426, under the rule of King Sejong. A fire that started from the home of Noh Jang-yong was spread by the wind and burned 2,100 houses, killing nine men and 23 women and injuring numerous others. A bigger fire consumed some 200 houses the next day. The capital was in a miserable state after the two-day blaze turned a sixth of the homes in the city into ashes, and countless people were left homeless. The dynasty devised a solution to the problem: Korea’s first firefighting unit "geumhwadogam."

The name was changed to "suseonggeumhwasa" under King Seongjong and Myeol Hwa Gun under King Jungjong and eventually to the modern term of "sobangseo" under Japanese colonial rule. In 1995, firefighting included the concept of rescue from disaster. After the horrific collapse of the Sampoong Department Store the same year, the Disaster Management Act was legislated and a central emergency rescue team was formed in October. In 2001, a central highway emergency team was created to cover emergencies. Three years later, the Government Organization Act was amended to form the National Emergency Management Agency. Disaster prevention as well as firefighting has become an important state affair.

In this unprecedented cold winter, icicle removal has become a new scene. Frequent snowfall and subzero temperatures can turn icicles on high-rise buildings into colossal columns. They are likely to fall to the ground as the high will return to above zero temperatures from Friday, and could kill or injure passers-by. Firefighters and rescue workers are busy breaking icicles that could fall at any moment.

The Framework Act on Fire Services allows the emergency agency to charge expenses for firefighting activities to organizations or groups that make such a request. The agency has not done this, however, because it removed icicles dangling on buildings. This is because of public sentiment that this is the government’s job. Just as individuals have to remove snow in front of their homes, building owners should pay for the removal of icicles. The government refused to pay firefighters for the removal, causing them to sue for overtime pay. The correct choice is to require building owners to pay for the removal of icicles on their structures.

City Desk Reporter Lee Dong-yeong (argus@donga.com)