Sejong Hospital generator was offPolice said the emergency power generator at Sejong Hospital in Miryang, South Gyeongsang, was not turned on in time during the fire on Friday, which may have caused the deaths of at least three patients who relied on oxygen masks for sustenance.
“We have checked the hospital’s emergency power generator with experts and found that the generator was not broken, but that it was not turned on during the fire,” said a police officer at a press conference at Miryang Police Precinct on Tuesday. “The emergency generator had to be turned on manually, but there were no signs of that having been done.”
“We will investigate whether there was a manual for power loss at the hospital and whether the hospital staff followed this during the fire,” said Kim Han-soo, head of the investigative bureau of Gyeongnam Provincial Police Agency in South Gyeongsang.
The hospital fire on Friday killed 39 and injured more than 150. Among the dead, authorities found at least three who had relied on oxygen masks for sustenance and did not die of suffocation from smoke inhalation. Autopsy results have not been released as of press time Tuesday.
But even if the emergency power generator was turned on manually, it had a capacity of 22 kilowatts, which may not have been enough to generate power for the intensive care unit and elevators, authorities said. The hospital bought the used generator and installed it in 2012.
During the fire, six elderly patients tried to take the elevator down to the first floor but were trapped inside when the power went out. Firefighters found them dead when they pried open the elevator door, which was on the first floor. Authorities said the six likely died of smoke inhalation.
“We also suspect that the fire door on the second floor,” said a police officer, “which was found deformed from the heat, may have been made with materials that don’t meet safety standards.”
The five-story hospital had fire doors on its second, third and fourth levels, where the wards were. It did not have a fire door on the first floor, where the fire began, and which houses the emergency room and the nurses’ changing room.
Because Sejong Hospital had no underground levels, it was not legally required to have a fire door on its first floor, but experts have pointed this out as a possible cause for the rapid spread of smoke and fire throughout the building.
A total of 19 out of 34 patients who died in the fire were on the second floor.
Authorities raided the hospital and a management company of the hospital on Monday, confiscating office and tax records, relevant licenses and bankbooks.
Police also banned the hospital’s chairman of the board, the head of the hospital and its director of general affairs who was in charge of fire management and prevention at the hospital from leaving the country.
Police named the three as suspects after finding traces of illegal renovations at the hospital, which may have led to a short circuit.
In raiding the hospital, authorities also collected some 2,200 personal possessions of victims of the fire, which are to be passed on to relatives.
BY CHOI EUN-KYUNG, ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]