When will we learn?A refrigerated warehouse caught fire in Icheon, south of Seoul, and the toxic blaze claimed 40 lives on Jan. 7. Another 17 people were seriously injured.
Among those killed was a man who had been married just three months. He was among 13 Chinese compatriots killed in the fire, who came to Korea with dreams of a better life. The tragedy saddens us ― again.
The accident reminds us of Korea’s neglect of safety precautions, because the disaster was definitely man-made.
At the time of the fire, it was known that there was no warning or emergency alarm system. Sprinklers were disabled due to an explosion triggered by the fire. There was an exit just 100 meters away from where the fire broke out. But the three-story warehouse had only one exit on the underground level, fire officials said.
The cold storage facility became a death trap because it was built using urethane foam insulation, which produces a highly toxic gas when it burns, according to the Icheon Fire Department.
Is it a stretch to say that the authorities who allowed such working conditions should assume some of the responsibility for the tragedy?
According to firefighting officials, the devastating blaze in Icheon had many things in common with the Oct. 1988 fire at a Busan refrigerated warehouse. That accident killed 27 people and injured at least 10 others.
Similar kinds of fire occurred 10 times in refrigerated warehouses over the past 10 years. This track record shows how poor Koreans are at preventing accidents.
The central government makes new laws whenever a big accident happens. Related officials have been fined and punished.
When the Sampoong Department Store in southern Seoul collapsed in 1995, killing 501 people, a law concerning disasters was implemented. In 1994, the collapse of the Seongsu Bridge killed 32 and injured 72.
A blaze in the subway system of Daegu in 2003 claimed 192 lives and triggered the creation of new laws concerning public safety.
Despite the new laws, these man-made disasters do not show any sign of decreasing.
In the United States and Europe, the use of urethane foam insulation in a building taller than one story is generally not permitted due to danger from toxic fumes in case of fire.
Korea has no law regulating the use of urethane foam as insulation, officials said.
We are in need of thorough reform when it comes to preventing disastrous situations.