Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on March 1, 2018.

South Korea hospital fire kills dozens



More than three dozen people died and dozens more were injured, some seriously, when a fire tore through a hospital in Miryang, South Korea, a small city about 170 miles southeast of Seoul, on January 26.

According to media reports, the facility lacked working fire sprinklers, which aren’t required by law. In the wake of the blaze, South Korean media reached out to NFPA to get a sense of the United States’ experience with similar fires.

Over the past 30 years, the U.S. has made strides in minimizing the number of serious fires in hospitals, according to Robert Solomon, NFPA’s division manager for building fire protection. Solomon told a South Korean television reporter during a video interview in February that the number of people who die in hospital fires in the U.S. is essentially zero. “In the U.S. codes, hospitals get a number of very specialized requirements that we don’t see in, say, office buildings,” he said. Those include measures such as requiring automatic fire sprinklers and making sure staff is prepared to evacuate patients, who often can’t do so themselves.

The reporter also posed many questions about “America Burning,” the pivotal 1973 report that outlined recommendations for curbing the U.S. fire problem, and suggested that the South Korean people want a similar document for their country. Although it’s over 40 years old, the report, which was commissioned by the federal government but written with input from both the public and private sectors, is still referred to today. “Some of the recommendations we implemented in the 1980s, some we implemented in the 1990s, and some we’re still working on,” Solomon said. “So for us, it’s been a nice road map to see our progress.”

The absence of safety measures in South Korea, which has one of the world’s fastest-aging populations, has become a major issue in recent years, the New York Times reported. About a month before the Miryang fire, more than two dozen people died in a fire at a fitness and spa center in Jecheon, about 75 miles southeast of Seoul.

NFPA is committed to being a part of solving the South Korean fire problem. Last summer, at the NFPA Conference & Expo, leaders from NFPA and the Korea Fire Institute (KFI) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish an official partnership between the two organizations. The MOU gives KFI access to NFPA’s extensive resources, with which the organization hopes to implement new training programs and best practices based on NFPA codes and standards. For more information about KFI, visit their website.


Bus fire kills dozens in Central Asia

Fifty-two Uzbek citizens died in a bus fire in a remote part of Kazakhstan on January 18. The migrant workers were traveling a commonly traversed road that runs from Uzbekistan to Russia, through Kazakhstan.

According to media reports, the vehicle, which was nearly 30 years old, was primed for disaster. The bus was not heated, and passengers were using a portable gas cooker to warm themselves. There were also gasoline containers on board for refueling, since the area is so remote it lacks gas stations. One of the bus’s exits was blocked. The fire apparently started after a passenger accidentally knocked over a gas container near the cooker, and it rapidly grew out of control. Photos and videos, including the image below, captured the horrific scene, showing orange flames raging inside the bus and thick black smoke pouring from end to end.

Bus fully engulfed in flames on the side of a highway in Kazahstan

Photograph: AP/Wide World

The fire is one of the deadliest bus fires in the last 20 years. Although the reporting is not entirely reliable, NFPA’s Fire Incident Data Organization has a record of six other bus fires with 50 or more civilian deaths since 1988. The last one occurred in 2008 in India, killing 63 people. In the United States, bus fires are uncommon and rarely fatal but they do occur. Twenty-three people died in 2008, for example, when a bus in Texas evacuating civilians from Hurricane Rita caught fire.


Report on international wildfire meeting released

Last summer, wildfire experts from Canada, Chile, the United Kingdom, Spain, Lebanon, South Africa, and Australia gathered with NFPA staff in Boston to discuss ways they can fight the global wildfire problem. A report on the meeting, “Workshop on International Wildfire Risk Reduction,” was published by the Fire Protection Research Foundation in December.

“It was great to bring our partners together, see the knowledge exchange that occurred, and learn from them about the common risk of wildfire,” said Lucian Deaton, project manager in wildland fire protection at NFPA. “Many have adapted the [NFPA] Firewise program to complement their implementation plans for community engagement.”

The report identified needs moving forward such as establishing common language around wildfire, compiling case studies on the successes and failures of wildfire policy changes, and learning from past events. “The year 2017 has been particularly impactful around the world with disastrous fires…from the Mediterranean region of Europe to recent fires in Northern and Southern California,” the report states. “It will be important for future efforts in reducing wildfire risk to learn from these incidents.”

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: AP/Wide World