Fire leaves Yongsan considering ‘more integrated system’
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — There is no automatic system — either through Korea’s 119 emergency number or the 911 system on the U.S. military’s headquarters base here — that lets either Yongsan-gu or Yongsan Garrison know help is needed, according to the Area II fire chief.
Instead, fire officials from either side must phone their neighboring department to announce the need for help, Chief Alex Temporado said.
Temporado said he was unsure whether either side ever had explored merging the two emergency response systems to eliminate the need for individual calls. But he said he thought it was an idea worth exploring.
“Any time you have an opportunity to improve communication is beneficial,” Temporado said. “We can look at having a more integrated system.”
Mutual-aid calls were made in the beginning minutes of response to the March 16 fire, though both departments also had been called independently through their own emergency systems and already were on their way, fire officials said.
The Yongsan-gu firefighters were dispatched at 1:39 a.m. after a caller from a nearby high-rise apartment building reported the blaze through 119, said Yongsan-gu fire Chief Lee Jong-whan.
The first South Korean firefighters arrived three minutes later and entered through an access gate they found unlocked, according to Lee. Firefighters also propped ladders against the base wall and scrambled over, he said.
U.S. military officials have declined to comment on gate access, citing security and the ongoing investigation.
The Area II firefighters were notified at 1:43 a.m. by the Provost Marshal’s Office, Temporado said. He declined to say who notified the provost office, saying that information was part of the investigation.
Area II firetrucks arrived at 1:48 a.m., a five-minute response time that meets military guidelines, the chief said.
Should a fire be farther inside the base, a military police or fire official would meet the South Korean firefighters and escort them to the scene, Temporado said.
What happened when?
Who responded, and when, to the March 16 fire on Yongsan Garrison and the Korean Service Corps compound:
1:39 a.m. The Korean National 119 Rescue Service (similar to America’s 911 system) notifies the Yongsan-gu Fire Department of the fire. The initial call to 119 came from a Korean caller who saw the blaze from a high-rise apartment building.1:42 a.m. The first responders from Yongsan-gu arrive in front of Gate 22 and the exterior wall of the U.S. military base where the fire is located.1:43 a.m. The Provost Marshal’s Office notifies the Area II fire department at Yongsan Garrison of the fire. Citing the ongoing investigation of the blaze, U.S. military officials would not give details last week about how the fire was reported to the marshal’s office.1:48 a.m. Area II firefighters arrive on the scene.1:52 a.m. The first victim, found standing outside a burning building, is recovered by Yongsan-gu firefighters. The Korean firefighters begin attempts to rescue more people who may be locked inside the building.2:34 a.m. After crawling and groping through the burning structure, Yongsan-gu firefighters recover the second victim.3:40 a.m. An ambulance carrying a third victim, who suffered burns over 60 percent of his body, departs for a Seoul hospital. No recovery time is available but by the time Yongsan-gu firefighters find him, the roof has collapsed.5:23 a.m. The fire is contained.Sources: Area II fire Chief Alex Temporado and Yongsan-gu fire Chief Lee Jong-whan.