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Significant change is needed

Jan 30,2018
The small city of Miryang, South Gyeongsang, with a population of 110,000 is in mourning and grievance after a blaze in the Sejong Hospital killed 38 and injured 161. Instead of coming to their comfort, politicians are busy pointing fingers at one another. The opposition Liberty Korea Party took the moment to attack the Moon Jae-in administration, while the ruling party accused LKP chair Hong Joon-pyo of being lax on fire safety when he was the governor of South Gyeongsang. Politicians received cold sneers from residents in Miryang for politicking at a funeral site.

There is a more urgent task for politicians than rushing to the scene for a photo op. They must urge the government to come up with effective safety measures and regulations. There are five fire safety-related bills pending in the National Assembly even after the fire in a fitness center building that killed 29 people in Jecheon, North Chungcheong, last month. Safety regulations should be fixed to ensure that all buildings, regardless of their size, comply with fire facility installment requirements. The hospital building did not have water sprinklers even though it treated critically ill or ailing seniors, simply because its size did not require one.

Under current law, cultural, religious and sports venues usually holding more than 100 people must have sprinklers, fire alarm, and other fire emergency facilities. Medical facilities like Sejong Hospital do not fall under the same criteria.

Similar requirements are imposed on medical and other buildings at least four stories high and with a floor space of 1,000 square meters (0.25 acres). Sejong Hospital is a five-story building, but covers a floor space of 394.78 square meters, so it was not required to have water sprinklers.

Hospital safety regulations also differ by the number of beds. A hospital with more than 100 beds must use interior materials that are fire-proof. But a hospital smaller than that does not need to use such materials. Sejong Hospital had 95 beds.

There are many fixes the government and National Assembly must tend to in order to prevent further fire accidents. Aging is serious in small cities like Miryang and hospitals are filled with seniors. There are over 14,000 small-scale hospitals across the nation prone to accidents like Miryang.

The government and legislature this time must come up with lasting and comprehensive anti-disaster manuals and regulations instead of makeshift actions.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 29, Page 30