Police seize fire sensors from No. 1 nat’l treasure

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Police seize fire sensors from No. 1 nat’l treasure


Police yesterday confiscated flame detectors suspected to be defective from Sungnyemun Gate. [JoongAng Ilbo]

Police yesterday confiscated flame detectors that were suspected to be defective from the restored Sungnyemun Gate, also called Namdaemun, which was destroyed in a 2008 arson attack.

The move follows the raid of the office of a manufacturer specializing in fire-protection products based in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, following a tip-off that the company had distributed 2,000 malfunctioning flame sensors to 200 government agencies and cultural heritage sites such as Sungnyemun.

The government facilities equipped with the sensor include the National Assembly and Sejong Government Complex, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

But the devices installed in Sungnyemun have particularly heightened fear, evoking memories of the disastrous arson attack six years ago.

The device, which costs about 2 million won ($1,946), is designed to detect flames caused by combustion and issue an alarm alerting people nearby to the danger of fire. It also automatically alerts fire authorities and administrative buildings.

But when the police asked the Korea Fire Institute to test 500 flame sensors manufactured by the Gyeonggi-based company, many did not function properly. The institute explained that the supplier had deliberately lowered the device’s ability to detect flames as its sensor went off too often, even in the absence of dangerous flames.

“The company’s product rang the fire alarm when catching a light from a streetlamp,” said a source in the fire protection industry, who requested anonymity.

“They tampered with software to lower sensitivity so that they can conceal the fact that their products are defective,” the source said.

The manufacturer boasts a 40 percent market share in the fire protection industry, No. 1 in the country.

A representative of the company said it merely adjusted sensitivity based on the locations where each device was fixed.

“We just adjusted the sensitivity of the detector in case the sensor is used in places like a blast furnace,” said the representative, who only gave the family name Kim. “There were also requests from customers, and this is merely a business practice.”

But the Korea Fire Institute maintained that all companies manufacturing flame detectors must follow its requirements, adding that many of the devices in question did not meet the test’s standards.

Fire authorities such as the National Emergency Management Agency have already issued warnings about sensors made by the manufacturer.

BY CHAE SEUNG-GI [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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