Six firefighters, all in their 20s, were killed in Greater Taoyuan yesterday morning after the bowling alley in which they were battling a blaze collapsed. All six were found dead when rescuers managed to reach them.
Officials from the Taoyuan District Prosecutors’ Office announced that an inquiry would be conducted into the deaths to investigate the cause and circumstances of the fire, and to determine if there had been any negligence or dereliction of duty.
The fire broke out early yesterday morning at about 2am at a three-story building in Sinwu District (新屋). The proprietor operated a bowling alley on the second floor and a swimming pool on the ground level, with the third floor used as a dormitory for employees.
Photo: Sam Yeh, AFP
The six firemen were on the second floor, near the bowling alley’s counter area, when a burst of flames erupted at shortly before 3am and the burning structure collapsed, trapping the firefighters.
“Suddenly, we heard a loud explosion, then the burning metal-sheet roofing caved in. It was terrible, because we knew some firefighters had gone inside to battle the fire,” an eyewitness was quoted as saying.
The bodies of the six firefighters were transported to the Sinwu Branch of Taoyuan General Hospital for identification by DNA testing and post-mortem examinations.
Photo: Lin Tzu-hsiang, Taipei Times
Two civilians, including the proprietor of the building, surnamed Liu (劉), were pulled from the fire and sustained minor injuries.
A total of 104 firefighters employing 36 fire engines and other vehicles were dispatched to the blaze.
Officials including Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國), Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦) and Minister of the Interior Chen Wei-zen (陳威仁) sent condolences and paid tribute to the firefighters for their sacrifice in the line of duty.
Cheng said his government would seek the maximum compensation payment possible for their dependents according to official regulations, which would be about NT$19 million (US$600,000) per family.
Taoyuan Fire Department Chief Hu Ying-ta (胡英達) said the building’s operating permit, received in 1994, approved the facility’s swimming pool business and the second floor for residential use.
“The bowling alley did not have a permit, so it was operating illegally. The third floor is also an illegal add-on structure,” Hu said, adding that the building passed a fire safety inspection last year.
After finding out the bowling alley had been operating illegally for 20 years, Cheng was incensed, mandating government officials to make inspections to identify all illegal buildings in Taoyuan within 10 days.
Meanwhile, a number of questions were asked following the incident, including whether the firefighters were equipped with inadequate protective and communication equipment; why there was a lack of accountability among government officials regarding the existence of illegal structures; and why no action had been taken against many known illegal businesses.
Commenting on the incident, the National Association for Firefighters’ Rights (NAFR) said it highlighted a widespread lack of personnel and adequate equipment among firefighting squads across the nation.
NAFR secretary-general Cheng Ya-ling (鄭雅菱) said firefighters could benefit from the use of infrared imaging equipment, such as thermographic cameras, which can be used to establish the topography and temperature of a fire prior to entry.
Fire stations in Taoyuan possess only two thermographic cameras, an insufficient number to significantly reduce the risk to firefighters, Cheng said.
She added that firefighting squads often have a drastic shortage of personnel, leading to the common absence of an incident safety officer and an emergency reaction team at fires.
Additional reporting by Lii Wen
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