A massive conflagration blazed through a hospital in Miryang, South Korea on Jan. 26, killing 37 people and injuring another 130. The accident came weeks after a similar tragedy in Jechon, further fueling the breakout of public anger over the recent series of disasters that have occurred nationwide. Through the smoke of the heated atmosphere, such incidents revealed the increase in not only the death tolls but also the recurrent safety lapses, sparking concern over the government’s inability to enforce adequate safety standards.
“There are so many people who have been affected through the recent string of fire accidents,” said Grace Oh (11), AP Environmental Science student. “Such tragic events demonstrate the lack of proper safety measures in our country. Korea is not part of a region where there is an extremely dry climate that is prone to fires. This means that these frequent outbreaks are caused by poor facilities and lax protocols, which the government should not only be aware of, but also take action to fix.”
In December, the building fire that claimed the lives of 29 victims was attributed to the malfunctioning of the sprinkler systems. Such flaws in security led to the arrest of the building’s manager, who was charged with the violations of fire safety regulations and involuntary homicide by negligence. Likewise, the hospital fire in Miryang was found to lack appropriate safety measures. According to a CNN interview with Choi Man-woo, chief of the local fire department, the Miryang hospital lacked fire sprinklers, resulting in fatal smoke inhalation and deaths, many of which were those of immobile patients with respiratory difficulties. The reason for deficiency as given by the hospital’s chairman, Son Kyung-chul, was that sprinklers were not installed in the building “due to its small size,” once again underscoring the dire need for the implementation of substantive safety provisions.
“The fact that the hospital was devoid of any safety systems is quite shocking,” said Eric Hwang (10), GIN member. “Whether it be a medical department or not, safety should always come first, and extensive steps should be taken beforehand to especially protect the lives of those who need more assistance than others in disastrous situations.”
Though upon his inauguration, President Moon Jae-in vowed to make Korea a “safer” place to live, the recent accidents pertaining to the inconsistency of his delivery have led to questions over the government’s ability to enforce adequate measures, as reflected by a recent poll. Furthermore, public skepticism has risen for the future of the country’s safety standards, with the majority of the South Koreans remaining traumatized over the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014. In the wake of the fire, Moon convened an emergency staff meeting, “expressing deep regrets” over the high death toll and ordering a thorough investigation to take preventative measures for similar fires. Moon also called for immediate medical support for those evacuated from the Miryang hospital and pledged to take action in response to the incident.
“Though President Moon has previously affirmed that safety measures will be strengthened, the recent fires directly contradict his statements,” said Gordon Kim (10), Forensics member. “Whether the government will now follow through on its stance is undecided, but hopefully, more effective initiatives will be enacted to actually prevent further accidents like these in the future.”