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Daegu fire quenched with no casualties

Hospital staff, better trained than those in Miryang, acted fast
Jan 30,2018
A fire broke out in a hospital in Daegu on Saturday - only a day after the deadly blaze in nearby Sejong Hospital, which took the lives of 39 and left nearly 190 casualties in Miryang, South Gyeongsang - but thanks to the response of hospital staff and firefighters, the Daegu fire was quickly put out before anyone was harmed.

At around 9:29 p.m. on Saturday, the electric heating pad on a bed in the doctors’ on-call room caught fire on the second floor of the Shilla Hospital in Dalseo District, according to the Daegu Fire and Safety Department. A nurse who spotted the flames called the fire department immediately, police said.

The differing ways in which employees of the two hospitals initially reacted to the fires had a huge impact, experts said. When the fire broke out Saturday night, Shilla Hospital staff, who received workplace fire safety education on a monthly basis, did what they were taught, with some calling fire authorities while others extinguished the flames or aided patient evacuation.

In contrast, employees at Sejong Hospital, who were only required to watch online educational videos on fire safety, lacked preparation and made mistakes like reporting the fire seven minutes after spotting it and trying too hard to put it out themselves. Within five minutes of receiving the call from Shilla, 112 firefighters and emergency workers as well as 53 fire trucks arrived. Once in the building, firefighters closed the fire door on the second floor to prevent smoke from drifting upward. After being alerted by staff that no patients were on the second and third floors, they quickly went up to the fourth and fifth floors to the intensive care units and broke the windows to allow air circulation.

“Out of the 35 patients in the hospital at the time, we escorted the 27 capable of escaping by themselves down the stairs,” said a firefighter from Dalseo Fire Station. “We helped 8 patients in critical condition into oxygen masks, evacuated them to the rooftop and left the building after the smoke dispersed.” Patients in Miryang were not given oxygen masks during their evacuation.

Firefighters completely extinguished the fire by 9:52 p.m., 23 minutes after it was reported. The 11 hospital staff members on duty also escaped unscathed.

“In the case of Sejong Hospital, the damage was large because the fire began on the first floor, where there were few fire doors,” a Dalseo firefighter said. “You can prevent fumes from escaping if you close the fire doors quickly. It’s helpful for evacuation.” The fact that the door of the on-call room where the fire first broke out was closed also helped contain the flames.

The fire in Shilla Hospital could have potentially developed into a huge catastrophe, since it also did not have sprinklers, nor was it required to. Shilla, specializing in orthopedics, has 73 hospital beds and is six floors high, with each one 482.99 square meters (1,584.6 square feet) in area. Current laws on sprinkler installation in medical centers only require buildings with floor areas larger than 1,000 square meters to have sprinklers. Although hospitals higher than six stories are required to have sprinklers, this only applies to hospitals constructed after the laws were revised last year.

The total damages from the Daegu fire were estimated to be at 30 million won ($28,200).

“We will decide on any necessary judicial measures after reviewing the cause of the fire,” police said. The investigation results from the National Forensic Service are due in mid-February.

BY BAEK KYUNG-SEO, HONG JI-YU AND KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]