High-rise fire near Camp Red Cloud raises concerns
November 3, 2006
CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — A Yangju high-rise apartment fire Saturday that killed three South Koreans has Area I workers worrying whether they’d be able to get out or be rescued in time if a blaze struck their building.
The fire remained under investigation by Yangju and Uijeongbu fire officials on Wednesday, according to base personnel and South Korean media reports.
Area I Maintenance Division Chief Robert Kriner lives on the 15th floor of a building across from the one that burned at Sunnyvale apartments, about 15 minutes from the Camp Red Cloud back gate.
Kriner said he watched the blaze intensify sometime between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. He said the first firefighters on the scene couldn’t get control of the seventh-floor fire.
“If I would have found out that Yangju didn’t have the equipment to fight a high-rise fire, I wouldn’t have accepted the apartment,” said Kriner, who has lived in his building with his daughter and wife since March 2005.
As flames and smoke intensified on the seventh floor, a man identified as Cho jumped from the apartment first and died on impact, according to the South Korean Segye Daily News.
Cho’s wife then hesitated a few times before wrapping her 2-month-old daughter up in blankets and tossing her to her father, who was already dead.
The mother then jumped and also died. The child’s 61-year-old grandmother also jumped and remains in a coma at a local hospital, according to news reports.
Gwangjoek fire station, the one closest to the fire, is a part of the Uijeongbu fire district. It is one of eight satellite fire stations that shares a fire rescue team and ladder equipment with larger facilities in Uijeongbu.
By the time the rescue team showed up, the family had already jumped, according to multiple news reports.
Area I community relations director Kil Joon experienced the blaze from the 10th floor of the scorched building, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.
Kil heard about the fire when his wife received a cell phone call around 4 a.m. When he opened the bedroom door, he saw black smoke rising from the seventh floor.
“Trying to get down through stairs would have been more dangerous,” Kil said.
They shut the door to his daughter’s room and tried to contact firefighters. They waited for an hour before rescuers helped them escape down the stairs, supplying oxygen along the way.
“I hope they prepare more now for safety and fire prevention,” Kil said.
All floors above the seventh floor suffered significant smoke damage during the fire. Floors below the fire sustained extensive damage from the water used to fight the fire, Kriner said after walking through the building.
Kriner currently is awaiting his next assignment. In the meantime, he wonders what would happen should his building across the street go up in flames.
“My daughter has been asking questions now about how we’ll get out if there is a fire,” Kriner said. “Hopefully it doesn’t happen before we leave.”
What to do in case of fire in a high-rise
The Camp Red Cloud Fire Department has a video and other information on fire safety in high-rise buildings available to the public, said Chief John Cook.
The New York City fire Department also recommends following these high-rise fire-safety tips:
If the fire is in your apartment
¶ Get everyone out. Stay low as you go out. Close but don’t lock all doors in the apartment as you leave.
¶ Alert others on the floor by knocking on doors. Activate the fire alarm if there is one.
¶ Go down the nearest stairway, holding the railing.
¶ Call the fire department from a floor below the fire or from a street location.
If the fire is not in your apartment
¶ Stay inside rather than entering smoke-filled hallways, especially if the fire is on a floor below your apartment.
¶ Keep your door closed.
¶ Seal the door with duct tape or wet sheets and towels. Seal ventilators and any other openings where smoke may enter.
¶ Turn off air conditioners.
¶ Fill your bathtub with water. If the front door gets hot, wet it down.
¶ Unless flames or smoke are coming from below, open your windows a few inches at the top or bottom. Don’t break the windows; they may need to be closed later.
¶ Call the fire department with your apartment number and a description of the conditions in your apartment. Firefighters will be directed to your location.
¶ If you feel you are in grave danger, open a window and wave a bed sheet for firefighters to spot you.
— Erik Slavin