Firefighter dies after tragic loss of a colleague

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Firefighter dies after tragic loss of a colleague

A firefighter, who previously worked at the Nongso Fire House under the Ulsan Bukbu Fire Station, died by suicide last August, leaving a note that he was traumatized by death of a colleague.

The 41-year-old Jeong Hui-guk was found dead in a reservoir in Ulsan on Aug. 5, 2019. The police believe Jeong died by suicide after suffering from guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for three years after his colleague died in 2016 during a rescue mission. PTSD is a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event.

When Typhoon Chaba slammed through Ulsan in October 2016, Jeong and his colleague Kang Ki-bong, who was 29 at the time, were mobilized to the scene to rescue residents of an area that was isolated due to damage. When the ambulance was about to leave the town after rescue missions, a resident told them that it seemed like a person was still in a vehicle that was swept away in a river.

Upon request, Jeong and Kang ran to the vehicle but they did not find anyone there. The water came up above their waist and they eventually lost their balance. While Jeong narrowly escaped death, Kang was found dead about 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) away from where Jeong was rescued.

“I’m so miserable. Psychiatric treatments and medicines are not helping at all. We should’ve both survived or died together,” read part of the handwritten note, which was found in Jeong’s vehicle.

Jeong also left another 24-page suicide note on his mobile phone describing his harrowing struggle with depression. According to police, Jeong wrote the note for three days, from June 23 to June 25, after a forty-ninth day memorial ceremony of his father, a Buddhist rite held in memory of a deceased person seven times, once every seven days, for 49 days after death.

“Although Jeong was living in misery, he endured due to his wife and two daughters,” Cho Dong-hyun, 56, head of the Nongso Fire House under the Ulsan Bukbu Fire Station said. “I guess he couldn’t stand it anymore after his father passed away as well.”

According to the Ulsan Bukbu Fire Station, they requested dangerous job-related death compensation, which is awarded to families when government employees become disabled or die due to illness or injury incurred on duty, for Jeong’s death on Dec. 27.

“After reviewing reports and documents of Jeong’s case, the allocation of compensation is determined by the Pension Benefits Deliberation Committee (PBDC) which determines the grade of disability and the correlation between the injury and work,” an official from Ulsan Bukbu Fire Station said.

BY WE SUNG-WOOK, CHEA SARAH [chea.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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