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After deadly blaze, police raid fire dept.

Goal was to uncover why the second story wasn’t accessed sooner
Jan 16,2018
Police raided Jecheon Fire Department on Monday in search of evidence of possible rule-breaking by firefighters and the 911 operation center during the rescue operation at the multiplex sports center in Jecheon, a fire that killed 29 people last month.

“We found in our investigation that the 911 call operation center had received information that there was a large number of people on the second floor of the building who needed to be rescued but that it had transmitted this information to the rescue director via cell phone communications,” said Byun Soo-nam, head of a fact-finding committee of 24 experts established last month to investigate the Jecheon fire case, in a press briefing Thursday. “The operation center violated a firefighting regulation that states communications must be made firstly via radio transmitter before phone calls.”

The committee had also pointed out that after the first report of fire was made at 3:53 p.m. on Dec. 21, the Jecheon Fire Department Chief Lee Sang-min got to the scene at 4:12 p.m., and although he was aware of the people on the second floor who needed to be rescued, he did not direct the rescue team to break the glass window on the second floor until 4:33 p.m.

“So until 4:33 p.m., the rescue team did not receive information about the people stuck inside the second floor,” Byun said.

Police said the raid was intended to find evidence regarding these reports by the committee. They raided the Jecheon Fire Department and Chungbuk Fire Service Headquarters in North Chungcheong and the 911 call operation center in the province. In raiding the Jecheon Fire Department, police seized computers and records of communicated information during the rescue operation.

Among the victims, 20 were women who died inside the sauna on the second floor. Most of them suffocated to death.

The firefighters rescued one person from the third floor, while a private tiller truck saved three people from the rooftop of the building.

Relatives of the victims had requested that police find out why the rescue team did not break the glass panels on the second floor as soon as they got to the scene.

A few people could reach their relatives inside the building by phone after the firefighters got to the scene.

“We understand that the police conducted the raid after a request from the relatives to find out if the firefighters responded properly to the incident,” said an official of the Chungbuk Fire Service Headquarters. “Firefighters should have done better at the time, but a lot of the firefighters are under extreme stress in the midst of ongoing police investigations and disciplinary actions taken against some high-ranking officials.”

The National Fire Agency dismissed the head of the Chungbuk Fire Service Headquarter for an inefficient response to the fire and the North Chungcheong provincial government dismissed Chief Lee of Jecheon Fire Department and the operation director of Chungbuk Fire Service Headquarters.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, CHOI JONG-KWON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]