[EDITORIALS]A Society That Is Blind to Fire Safety

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[EDITORIALS]A Society That Is Blind to Fire Safety

The fire at a cram school in Gwangju, Kyonggi province, makes us both sad and dumbfounded. One can see how unprepared the school was for fire, since eight students died and 33 were seriously injured in just 15 minutes. School officials and local authorities practically brought the disaster onto themselves. There is only one entrance to the building, the staircase is extremely narrow and walls were decorated with styrofoam, which emits toxic gas when set on fire.

We feel almost enraged by the fact that not a single fire extinguisher was found on the floor where the dead students were studying.

Even more discouraging, the classroom on the fifth floor where the fire originated had been a storage space later transformed into a classroom. School officials said they had been using the rooftop space without permission from local education authorities. For their part, the local authorities are saying they did not inspect the illegally-built classroom for structural and fire safety because it had not been registered.

But the explanation makes no sense. How can they possibly say that they did not know about a classroom on top of a large cram school where some 100 college-bound students studied day and night for months? If they indeed did not know about the use of the classroom, they are incapable administrators. If they did know about the classroom but took no action, they should be arrested for dereliction of duty. Prosecutors and police must thoroughly question them to see whether there was a collusive link among the local government, board of education and fire department to systematically overlook the illegal operation.

The situation surrounding this accident is almost identical to those in the disastrous fire at a children's camping facility in Hwaseong, Kyonggi province, and another at a bistro in Inchon, both in 1999. Our society seems to be blind to safety concerns. There are about 20 cram schools with dormitories for college-bound students in the Seoul metropolitan area. The authorities should inspect safety features at those places and come up with a fundamental solution to prevent a recurrence of such disasters.
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