Army officials thank S. Koreans for work at March fire
SEOUL — U.S. Army officials on Monday visited a South Korean fire department to thank firefighters there for battling a fire at Yongsan Garrison last month that destroyed three buildings and burned three men.
“I’m honored to be here today,” said Col. Ron Stephens, the Area II Support Activity commander, whose job includes overseeing the facilities at Yongsan Garrison. “Without your help, the fire would have been much worse. And we may have lost lives without your help.”
The early morning fire March 16 burned three buildings: two on Yongsan Garrison and one on an adjoining base used by Korean Service Corps workers. The fire drew 140 South Korean firefighters and took more than three hours to contain. Another 40 firefighters from Yongsan Garrison also fought the blaze.
On Monday, Stephens presented the division chiefs at the Yongsan-gu fire station with certificates of appreciation and commander’s medals.
“We’re proud to serve by your side,” Stephens said.
It was South Korean firefighters who found the three burned men, one of whom suffered burns over 60 percent of his body and remains in intensive care. All three men still are hospitalized but are improving, according to Lee Hak-dae, the corps’ union president.
The Korean Service Corps union has collected 20,500,000 won, or about $21,600, to help the three families pay their medical bills, Lee said.
Lee Byeok-woo, who suffered the worst burns, got a little more than half the money. So far, he has had four grafting surgeries, the union president said.
The other two men split the remaining money, Lee Hak-dae said.
Lee Sun-bok suffered burns on 20 percent of his body and has had two surgeries. Jung Ji-hun, who had damage to his breathing and speech, has improved and has begun to talk again, the union president said.
Yongsan-gu fire leaders said Monday they were honored but also a little embarrassed to be thanked for doing their jobs.
“I just did my work,” said Lee Sung-jin, the department’s chief. It is “a contradiction (to) receive an award for putting out a fire because my job is a firefighter.”
But Lee and his rescue and fire containment division chief, Lee Jong-whan, said the fire should prompt more discussion and combined training between the on-base and local fire companies. Yongsan Garrison Fire Chief Alex Temporado said he also supports that effort.
Lee Jong-whan said he thought Stephens’ visit and the recognition would boost morale among his firefighters.
“Personally, I feel honored at being awarded, and I think it is going to be helpful for me to (better) understand United States Forces Korea.”