Law change will allow firefighters to move cars

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Law change will allow firefighters to move cars

A change in the country’s fire safety laws will make it easier for firefighters to forcibly remove vehicles that obstruct access to emergency situations.

The change, announced Sunday by the National Fire Agency, will take effect in June and follows a deadly incident last month where illegally parked cars prevented rescue workers from accessing a multistory fire in Jecheon, North Chungcheong.

Twenty-nine people died in the blaze on Dec. 21. Firefighters complained that 21 vehicles parked around the building forced them to take a detour that delayed the rescue.

On Dec. 27, the National Assembly passed a revision to the Fire Services Framework Act to include clearer specifications on how to cover damages that vehicles sustain during rescue efforts. No compensation will be given to vehicle owners who illegally park in access roads.

Although the current version of the law grants firefighters the power to remove any obstacles that hinder rescue activities, and the right not to compensate for any vehicles that illegally “hinder the passage of fire engines,” it only vaguely states that mayors and governors hold responsibility for covering damages without providing any guidelines on the amount and eligible recipients.

“Because the compensation procedures were inadequate, firefighters frequently compensated small losses with their own money,” one official from the National Fire Agency said. Many have even been sued.

The revision is expected to help firefighters do their job more quickly without fear of retribution. Starting June 27, mayors, governors and fire station heads will be obligated, through committees, to determine appropriate compensation whenever there is damage incurred from forced removal of parked vehicles. Presidential decrees will determine the scope and method of compensation.

Another revision will help firefighters find lawyers in case they are sued by vehicle owners.

“After the revision goes into effect, fire engines will be able to access emergency scenes more easily,” a firefighter said.

BY CHOI JONG-KWON, KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]

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