SEOUL, July 18 (Korea Bizwire) — A firefighting helicopter crashed in Gwangju, South Korea, killing all five people on board. The helicopter crashed onto a residential area in the middle of the day, causing further damage to the pedestrians near the accident site, including a teenage girl who was reportedly hit by a fragment of the crashed helicopter.
On the news of ‘another’ accident in South Korea, which is yet to overcome the tragic memory of the ferry ‘Sewol‘ accident in mid-April, many citizens start deploring the nation’s safety dysfunction and raising questions why the accidents like this should continue to happen.
Amid gloomy news one after another, a posting on a social networking site written by a firefighter who was among the five passengers aboard the crashed helicopter starts making huge resonance with South Korean Internet users all of a sudden.
“All the fire departments across the nation belong to local governments; general pay schemes and equipment upgrading largely depend on financial conditions of the local government. That means, the wealthier the local government is, the more advanced the fire department gets in terms of capabilities.”
Lee Eun-gyo, firefighter with the Gangwon Fire Department, who was among the five passengers aboard the crashed helicopter.
Lee Eun-gyo, firefighter with the Gangwon Fire Department, reportedly wrote a posting in support of the necessity of overhauling the nation’s fire department system including pay schemes and the organization’s affiliation. Sadly enough, Lee was to get married only two months after his untimely death.
According to the posting by Lee, all the fire departments across the nation belong to local governments; general pay schemes and equipment upgrading largely depend on financial conditions of the local government. That means, the wealthier the local government is, the more advanced the fire department gets in terms of capabilities.
From this, the tragedy begins: The divisions within the fire department responsible for disaster relief and prevention, among other things, are not fields in which any elected head or political appointees can show off their accomplishments. That’s why less and less investment has been put in the disaster prevention departments and so has the budget scale and this trend can lead to tragic accidents at the expense of citizens’ lives.
For example, even the Seoul 119 Agency, the equivalent of 911 of the U.S., is still flying the Bell 206L3 model as its helicopter in operation. The almost-obsolete model was introduced more than 20 years ago — in 1990 — from Bell Helicopter Inc., from the U.S. and the situation in other local governments is much worse.
As Mr. Lee claimed in his writing, the urgency of overhauling the fire department system — making the overall organization belong not to local governments, but to the central government — so that the disaster prevention organization may be upgraded across the board, supported by the ‘big’ budget benefits and thus improve significantly in light of offering much safer and secure public services to the citizens.
There is a well-known saying in Korea that goes “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” and many Koreans complained this uneasy social trend was responsible for the tragic accident of the sunken ferry disaster: The rich or the establishment do not have to worry about safety measures for coastal transportation which could be regarded as a vehicle for ordinary people, and that might have served as the reason for tragic accidents one after another.
This phenomenon has deepened and more disappointment is that even in the public service area, there seems to exist this kind of ‘wealth gap’ depending on where you reside in and which company you work for, and so on. The helicopter crash, hence, comes as another occasion for a wakeup call to the fact it will be harder to bridge the disparity even in the basic public service market.
By Jerry M. Kim (email@example.com)