Sat, Sep 14, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Blaze at military building in Taipei kills two people

DEADLY MISTAKE?A decision to use oxygen instead of freon gas may have caused the fatal inferno as a result of a breakdown of an air conditioning unit, an expert said

By Jason Pan  /  Staff Writer with CNA

Two people died from burns at the Ministry of National Defense (MND) Reserve Command building in Taipei after a fire broke out in the basement at around 9:30pm on Thursday evening.

A further four suffered burns or smoke inhalation and received medical treatment.

The incident took place when workers were called in on Thursday evening to repair an air conditioner in the basement of the ministry’s Reserve Command building.

According to defense officials, an explosion occurred when workers were replenishing the freon coolant for the air conditioner’s compressor.

Four people, including three civilian repairmen and a staff sergeant, were present when the explosion and the subsequent fire broke out.

The two fatalities sustained about 80 percent to 90 percent burns to their body, and the pair, including one repairman and a staff sergeant surnamed Lin (林), were later pronounced dead in hospital.

The two other workers present are being treated for injuries and are reported to be in good condition.

Additionally, a major and a private surnamed Tsai (蔡), both of whom were in third-floor offices, were treated for injuries from smoke inhalation.

The MND compound is in the high-security Po-Ai Special District (博愛特區) in Taipei, with its cluster of important government bureaus, the Presidential Office Building and housing for top officials.

As the blaze quickly spread from the basement to top floors, smoke was seen emanating from various points in the building and over 300 military staff and officers were evacuated from the complex. A total of 19 fire engines and four ambulances arrived, after the military department’s own small firefighting unit was unable to contain the fire.

According to a veteran air conditioning repairman, the explosion likely occurred due to human error.

“[This kind of accident] usually happens due to workers taking up the wrong gas. Most of the time the mistake is in using oxygen, instead of freon gas. If it was oxygen, this would cause the air conditioner compressor to explode,” he said.

The firefighting department’s investigation unit is carrying out a probe into the cause of the explosion and blaze.

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