An accident-prone countryThe fire at a hospital in Miryang, South Gyeongsang, on Friday that killed at least 37 and injured 130 is another example of the life-threatening society we live in. The tragedy is almost similar to the blaze in a multi-story fitness center in Jecheon, North Chungcheong, that killed 29 last month. In the last couple of months, 15 lives were lost at sea after a fishing boat collided with a tanker, four premature babies died from poor care at the hospital, and six were killed in a fire at an inn in downtown Seoul.
The fire at the five-story Sejong Hospital caused bigger casualties because the hospital specialized in care for the elderly. The hospital should have taken into account its features in its readiness for an emergency. But witnesses complained that hospital officials were as chaotic as the patients. The Jecheon fire also ended up causing greater damage because the building operator fumbled in its response. The blaze quickly spread due to lack of firefighting facilities. The water sprinklers did not work in the building, but there was no water sprinklers in the first place at Sejong Hospital. Hospital authorities said the building size did not require water sprinklers to be installed. The president held an emergency meeting, and the safety minister and politicians rushed to the scene, another scene we see after every accident.
Investigations are not final, but given the rapid spread of smoke, more lives were lost than should have been due to the unsafe building structure and materials. The hospital also did not have any manual for disasters such as fires and earthquakes. Alarms went off and nurses shouted fire, but the caregivers did not work to evacuate the patients.
The government had promised to make society safer after the sinking of Sewol ferry four years ago. A public safety administration was independently created. But despite all of this, nothing has changed. We witness the loss of lives on the streets and industrial sites and more lives are at risk in multi-functional public facilities.
What the government really must combat is the ills prevalent across the society. We now have become accustomed to the sight of major accidents. Our lives are at risk in a safety-poor society. The public too must become more aware. Instead of all the big talk, the government must show actions and address dangers in the society.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 27, Page 26