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Sejong vs. Severance - preparation was key

Feb 06,2018
Fully functioning sprinklers and fire doors at Severance Hospital in western Seoul prevented a fire on Saturday from causing the kind of tragedy seen at the Sejong Hospital last month, in which 43 people died.

The fire, suspected to have begun at a pizza restaurant on the third floor of the 20-story Severance Hospital in Seodaemun District, western Seoul, at around 7:56 a.m., was put out by 9:59 a.m., according to authorities. There were no casualties.

“We suspect the fire began near the ceiling of gate five on the third floor, as some gunk inside the air ventilator connected to the oven of the pizza restaurant caught on fire,” a police officer from the Seodaemun Police Precinct said on Sunday.

The authorities and National Forensic Service inspected the hospital on Sunday and concluded the fire began on the ceiling on the third floor. They plan to investigate the restaurant managers and hospital facility managers to find out if there was any human error that caused the fire. No casualties were reported, according to authorities. Eight people who inhaled smoke were transferred to other buildings or other hospitals. The situation was a marked contrast to the fire at Sejong Hospital in Miryang, South Gyeongsang, on Jan. 26, which killed 43 and injured nearly 150.

“The fire sprinklers and fire doors worked properly at Severance Hospital,” said Lee Dong-sik, head of the on-site response team for the Seodaemun Fire Department. “The smoke did not travel beyond the third floor of the hospital.”

The sprinklers were turned on automatically when the fire alarm went off, police said. Sejong Hospital did not have a fire door on the first floor, where the fire began, which isn’t required by law. The number of casualties was largest on the second floor, where 19 out of 34 patients died, mostly from smoke inhalation. There were no sprinklers in the five-story building. The law in Korea requires buildings with more than six stories to have fire sprinklers. The number of fire drills the hospitals conducted may have made a difference as well. Sejong Hospital held a drill once a year, and there were reports that the hospital staff, instead of calling 119 immediately after spotting the fire, tried to put out the flame on their own, which delayed the first call to the fire department by seven minutes.

Severance Hospital has been holding three fire drills a year. Around 8:02 a.m. Saturday, the hospital rang an evacuation alarm throughout the building, and the nurses and security staff on duty were able to evacuate some 300 patients from the area where the fire began. When the fire alarm went off, the doors to the evacuation stairways to the rooftop of the building also opened automatically, enabling patients to escape to the roof.

BY SPECIAL REPORTING TEAM [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]


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