Faulty fire outfits to cost $17.2M

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Faulty fire outfits to cost $17.2M

A tip-off from a member of the public to the Public Procurement Service has revealed that some 5,300 pieces of flame-retardant outfits distributed to fire stations nationwide were potentially defective and could lead to fatal results if used.

The Ministry of Public Safety and Security took the belated measure of banning firefighters from using all 19,300 firefighting outfits distributed recently because sorting out the defective ones isn’t possible.

Two manufacturers made the outfits supplied over the past two years to city and provincial governments for local fire stations. The two companies won tender processes by the Public Procurement Service.

A member of the public filed a report to the service last month saying that some of the outfits the two producers supplied were not inspected by the Korea Fire Institute, a state-run testing organization for firefighting gear.

Under the regulations, any supplier of firefighting garments should have their products examined for protection against flames and high temperatures. The garments that weren’t tested all bore marks saying they passed tests by the Korea Fire Institute.

The ministry has filed a complaint with prosecutors against the two companies for skipping the mandatory test and selling potentially defective products. It will also spend 19 billion won ($17.2 million) to purchase new garments to replace the 19,300 pieces.

“If it had not been for the tip-off, we would have worn garments whose safety hasn’t been verified,” said a firefighter. “It makes no sense that the government didn’t recognize the problem earlier considering that a single outfit costs several hundreds of thousands of won and the garments were supplied through the Public Procurement Service.”

The issue of working conditions for firefighters was highlighted after five firefighters were killed after a fire department helicopter crashed in a residential area in Gwangju last July. The accident shed light on the government’s reluctance to invest in firefighting. Government data shows that one firefighter in Korea is in charge of taking care of 1,200 people, compared to 820 in Japan and 1,075 in the United States.

Some anonymous firefighters also made shocking revelations last year that they bought flame-retardant gloves at own expenses because local fire stations don’t have the right amount of gear due to budget constraints.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]



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