Police have detained an 81-year-old man who is suffering from dementia in connection to a South Korean hospice fire which killed 21 and injured seven others. Just last month South Korea was struck by an unrelated tragedy when a ferry sank in the ocean, claiming the lives of nearly 300 people. Now the country is faced with a new tragedy in the form of a fire that claimed the lives of 20 elderly patients and a nurse. The fire was reported to have started just after midnight in Jangseong county hospice which cares for 80 patients. Asphyxiation was the common cause of death in this fire, with many of the victims residing on the third floor.
This incident could have been easily prevented had the sprinklers been activated in the hospice, however according to media reports, such hospitals for the elderly are not required to have sprinklers in South Korea. This is a troubling trend as the country’s population is aging rapidly. As the public seeks safety in the country, many are concerned that there will be an increase in similar incidents.
Security video shows the 81-year-old suspect entering the room in which the fire has started. Remains of a lighter were found in the room, however the man who has been identified by his last name as Kim, has denied responsibility. The footage shows fire beginning to spread shortly after Kim left the room and later evacuated the hospital.
It took 270 firefighters six minutes to put the fire out, unfortunately that was not enough to save those who were trapped inside. While some of the media had reported that many of the patients were strapped to their beds, this report was later found to be inaccurate by fire officials.
Dementia is a general term for those who suffer a decline in mental ability. This decline is severe enough to cause interference in the daily life of the patients. While dementia is classified as a range of different symptoms and diseases, dementia patients often require intensive care, round the clock watch and surveillance. It is believed that dementia is caused due to damage of the brain cells, frequently occurring in the elderly. Some of the symptoms of dementia include memory loss, inability to function, and loss of ability to communicate. Alzheimer’s amounts to 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases.
In the South Korean case, many questions have been raised around the circumstances of the fire including but not limited to how the 81-year-old man diagnosed with dementia acquired a cigarette lighter. The likelihood of conviction for patients with dementia conditions is low and it is predicted that much of responsibility will fall on those in charge of the hospice.
This week a dementia patient set a hospice on fire which killed 21 people and the incident follows last week’s fire at a bus terminal which killed eight and injured 57 people. These two incidents are raising questions about public safety in South Korea. In a grief torn nation, many hope that safety will soon become a priority for those who care for the nation’s most vulnerable. Installation of sprinklers may be the start of increased safety measures.
By Ivelina Kunina