Daegu firefighters respond to Korean factory fire, chemical leak
Firefighters from U. S. Army Garrison Daegu responded to a mutual aid assist request from Korean firefighters combating a factory explosion and fire which released fluorine gas here Sept. 27.
USAG Daegu Commander Col. Kathleen Gavle authorized the Garrison Fire Chief, Andrew Allen, to provide firefighting support to the Korean firefighters when the call came in at 5:18 p.m.
The Garrison dispatched "Crash-31" and "HazMat-31" as well as two command and control vehicles to the incident. As they responded, an additional Garrison vehicle (HazMat-11) moved to Camp Carroll in nearby Waegwan City to prepare for relief, while all Camp Walker (Daegu) and Camp Carroll firefighters were recalled in anticipation of possible need.
While not directly needed at the Incident Command Post or on the scene of the incident, Chief Allen and Assistant Chief Pak, Yong-Sok realized that there were no traffic controls being made to prevent vehicles from transiting through the fluorine gas vapor cloud which enveloped the area near the factory. They quickly deployed to critical points and began directing traffic away from the hazardous scene. Simultaneously, they contacted the ICP, Gumi Fire Dept. and Korean National Police (KNP) to let them know of the danger to motorists transiting during the rush hour. Within five minutes proper control was established and Daegu firefighters handed off to the Korean police.
"This was a major hazardous materials accident that pulled in well over 200 firefighters from across the region to include our nine-person, four-vehicle 'task force,'" Allen said. "Integrating into such a massive operation is tricky at best. We were able to size up the situation as we approached and were able to ensure the safety of the team. Initially the local fire department wanted detection capability however it was quickly apparent they needed command and control help. By setting up traffic blocking action and pulling in the KNP we quickly were able to give the local commander a safer scene and better community protection."
By 8:55 p.m., the Gumi Dispatch Center confirmed with the ICP that Garrison assets were no longer required and all vehicles and firefighters returned to post by 9:50 p.m.
Korean reports indicate that four Korean civilians died and some 18 were injured at the scene, several seriuosly. While the leak has been stopped, a large area was evacuated and schools in the vicinity were closed. The Korean Environmental Protection Agency is assessing the area for contamination and Korean firefighters and police are conducting investigation into the cause of the incident.
The U.S. Army Garrison Daegu Fire Dept. earned Best Medium-size Fire Dept. in the U.S. Army honors in 2011 and were named the DoD's Best Fire Prevention Program the year before that.
USAG Daegu, commanded by Col. Kathleen A. Gavle, is a multiple Army Communities of Excellence Award-winner and encompasses Area IV over the lower third of South Korea from Daejon to Busan. We provide base operations support to the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command and other supported units on Camp Carroll in Waegwan, Camps Walker, Henry and George in Daegu, as well as the Busan Storage Facility and Pier 8 in Busan.