With the mixture of heavy-duty balcony cages, exposed wiring and tiny alleys that dominate the urban landscape of Taiwan, I’ve often wondered what would happen should a serious fire ever break out.
Although it’s doubtful much will change as a result of it, sadly one sixty two year old Hsinchu County man recently found out.
After getting into an argument with his bipolar son over money, Lin Jung-mao (林榮冒) later noticed the building he lived in and owned was on fire.
In a desperate attempt to escape the flames, Lin climbed to the fifth floor and waited to be rescued by the Sinpu Township (新埔) fire department.
Despite 45 firemen arriving on the scene with numerous firetrucks and equipment, firefighters soon discovered that the trucks they had that were equipped with ladders long enough to reach Lin were unable to enter the alleyway the building was in.
The firetrucks that were able to enter the alleyway only had ladders capable of reaching the fourth floor. In the photo below you can see the firefighter’s ladder falling just short of Lin:
At this point an inflatable mattress would have usually been deployed to save Lin, however when they went to pull the mattress out of the truck the firefighters realised they’d ‘forgotten to bring the mattress with them’.
Over the next fifteen minutes the forty five firefighters present, Lin’s wife, family and their neighbours stood and watched the flames creep closer and closer to Lin.
Amidst Lin’s screams for help, fuelled by the confusion of why nobody was helping him, the fire eventually engulfed Lin and he burned to death. Upon realising their blunder, the firefighters had no choice but to silently watch on in horror as Lin’s death took place.
During his final moments, Lin’s wife and neighbours ran amongst them pleading for someone to save Lin and wondering with despair why nobody was doing anything.
I have no idea what passes through one’s mind when you realise nobody is going to help you and a raging inferno us drawing nearer and nearer… but I suspect it’s one of complete and utter heart-breaking terror.
Following the controlling of the blaze, it was revealed that Lin’s argument with his thirty two year old son had been over a disputed regular payment to the son’s bank account of $5000 TWD ($172 USD).
Lin’s wife had apparently had enough and declined to make the monthly deposits her son had demanded from them which they’d initially agreed to. Following a heated argument with their son, Lin’s wife took the family dog out for a walk.
Meanwhile the son doused the lower levels of the building with petrol and ignited the fire that would claim the life of his father.
Lin’s son fled the scene but suffered second-degree burns to his face and hands. He slept overnight in a factory he worked at but due to his injuries had to present himself to a hospital the next day.
Upon presenting himself the hospital staff notified the police and Lin’s son was arrested.
In the political aftermath of the fire, Fire Bureau Director Wu Wu-tai (吳武泰) had been transferred to a non-executive position. The District Prosecutors Office have also launched an investigation into the forty five firefighters present, to ascertain whether or not there is a case of “criminal responsibility” to answer for.
Hsinchu County Commissioner Chiu Ching-chun yesterday paid a visit to Lin’s family, offering the government’s condolences over the incident (accompanied by what appears to be one inappropriately jolly fellow):
Chiu also stated that the Hsinchu government would not “avoid its responsibilities” (cha-ching!).
With these fire deathtrap alleys a staple feature of every Taiwanese city and county (yes, even Taipei City is full of them), I’m quite frankly surprised horror deaths like Lin’s aren’t a much more frequent occurrance.
Good to know that you might very well end up being on your own should you ever find your building on fire and unfortunately live above the fourth floor…