Alarm and fans were turned off in Dongtan fire

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Alarm and fans were turned off in Dongtan fire

The maintenance company of Metropolis Mall Dongtan, which was caught up in a fire on Saturday that killed four people and injured 47 more, had left the ventilation fan of the building manually turned off in the initial minutes of the blaze. The four victims died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Police found that for the initial minutes of the fire, the residential commercial complex’s ventilation system, fire alarm, evacuation lights and sprinkler were left off in manual mode. The employees said they turned them back on when the fire began, but authorities say they were too late.

The Dongbu Police Precinct of Hwaseong, Gyeonggi - where the Metropolis Mall Dongtan, comprising four buildings in total, with the highest building rising up to the 66th floor - is located, announced on Monday that the complex’s fire-fighting systems were left on manual mode, which prevented them from responding automatically and immediately to the fire.

Initial autopsy results revealed that the four victims, two male construction workers and two women from a nearby skin care clinic, died of suffocation from inhaling carbon monoxide, generated by the Styrofoam in the children’s play zone as it burned.

Authorities are investigating whether those responsible at the company for leaving the ventilation system, fire alarm, evacuation lights and sprinkler turned off can be criminally prosecuted.

Article 9 of the Installation, Maintenance and Safety Control of Firefighting Systems Act states that “in maintaining and supervising firefighting systems … an interested person of a specific firefighting object shall not close or shut down the systems, which causes any trouble in function and performance of the firefighting systems: Provided, that he or she may close or shut down firefighting systems to inspect or maintain them.”

The fire alarm systems were shut down, not for inspection or maintenance, but for the construction work ongoing in the children’s play zone on the third floor of a commercial building, according to authorities. The fire originated there.

Employees of the maintenance company had told police that the systems were turned off to “prevent false fire alarms during the construction work that may cause accidents as customers try to evacuate the buildings.”

Police also found that the local fire department had issued a warning to the Metropolis Mall Dongtan a month ago for errors in its fire alarm systems. The Hwaseong Fire Department issued a notice to the residential commercial complex on Jan. 23 after a month of inspections into its alarm systems.

Just two days before the fire at Metropolis Mall Dongtan, its maintenance company won the grand prize for excellency in creating a safe environment from fire at a contest hosted by the Hwaseong Fire Department.

Eight maintenance companies participated and all won awards at the contest.

The fire department said the maintenance company of Metropolis Mall Dongtan “provided the smoothest presentation” in explaining its reasons for awarding the company the grand prize.

“The contest was not about checking the fire safety systems on site,” said an official of the Hwaseong Fire Department. “It was just a small event to share information among maintenance companies.”

BY LIM MYOUNG-SOO and KIM MIN-WOOK [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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