Sunday, November 05, 2006

High-Rise Death Trap

The Stars and Stripes reports about the death of a Korean family who was trapped in their home during a high-rise apartment fire in Yangju and decided to jump to their death. A tragic story that raises some serious questions about fire safety in large apartment buildings and reminds me of a fire in my apartment building just a couple of months ago.
I was awakened at about 6am by someone ringing the front door of our 12th floor apartment. I was sleeping so it took me a few seconds to realize that it was the front door. Before I got to the door, someone was outside the door and I could hear them yelling that the apartment was on fire. It was the apartment across the hallway from mine. I grabbed my daughter and my wife grabbed our son. We were in a bit of a panic and did not know how bad the fire was. At home were an ill elderly woman and her college age daughter. When we went outside, the daughter asked me if she could use my cellphone to call her father (who is a local police officer). At that time, the fire didn't look that bad, there was some acrid smelling smoke and I was worried about poison gas so I handed her my phone and put my daughters face into my shirt and started down the stairs, once we got a little down the stairs, I noticed that no one else seemed to be evacuating and it didn't seem to be effecting any other part of the building, so I took the elevator from about the 7th floor, my wife opted to go all the way down on the stairs. To my relief, the firefighters arrived at about the same time we arrived on the first floor. We watched the smoke pour out of the apartment and wondered if the fire or smoke would damage anything in our apartment. As it turns out, the fire was pretty bad but was contained mostly in the one apartment. The fire was started by a rice pressure cooker that literally exploded (according to the daughter) and caught fire. The kitchen burned quickly and nearly completely (see pix below) and smoke damaged the living room ceiling and walls. The quick response of the firefighters surely saved the day and possibly a lot more damage to our apartment. The worst we got was a smelly house for a day or so and the hallway smelled of smoke for about a week. But the neighbors wound up completely redoing their apartment.

The thing about the way the apartments are constructed here out of concrete, it would take a pretty hot fire to start burning the concrete so it is difficult for a fire to spread from one apartment to another but the smoke damage can be dangerous even in a small fire. One thing you want to make sure about in your apartment is that the door has the proper gaskets to keep out the smoke and that you can close your windows completely if necessary.

Hat tip to Lost Nomad

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