Sixth victim dies from fire at karaoke outlet

04/30/2020 11:29 PM
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Taipei, April 30 (CNA) Another victim died from injuries sustained in a fire at a karaoke outlet on Sunday, bringing the death toll from the incident to six, police said Thursday.

The victim, a 29-year-old man surnamed Chang (張), was in critical condition when he was taken to National Taiwan University Hospital and placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, according to police.

However, the man's condition failed to improve and his family decided to end treatment after discussions with medical personnel. He passed away on Thursday afternoon, police said.

Chang is the sixth person to have died from the fire, which broke out at the Cashbox Partyworld KTV branch on Linsen North Road on Sunday morning.

At the time, all five major safety features -- an indoor fire hydrant, automatic sprinkler system, automatic fire alarm, emergency broadcasting system, and smoke extraction equipment -- were out of action, investigating police and prosecutors said Tuesday.

According to the police, Chang was with a group of friends in a booth on the eighth floor when the fire started on the fourth floor of the building. While some members of the group left the booth in an effort to flee the building, Chang hid in the restroom inside the booth with a friend surnamed Chou (周), who died on Sunday.

The two were found unconscious at the scene, likely due to smoke inhalation, police said.

Although the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, police believe it could have been triggered by a foreman surnamed Wang (王), who was charging a laser rangefinder in a storage room on the fourth floor, which he left unattended.

The fire broke out nearly two hours later, police said, citing CCTV footage.

Also on Thursday, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said the city government has set up an investigation committee to look into the current safety inspection system.

The committee will re-evaluate the inspection records of the building where the fire took place, as well as review the process through which safety risks are reported, according to a city government statement.

As to the determination of responsibility for the incident, a report will be released within a week, the statement said.

Meanwhile, Kuomintang legislator Wan Mei-ling (萬美玲) said on Thursday that she would be proposing amendments to the Fire Services Act so business operators face harsher penalties.

Under the current act, if a business is found to violate fire safety regulations, operators are given a grace period to make the necessary improvements and cannot be fined immediately, no matter how serious the violation, Wan said at a press conference.

Another issue is the low level of fines -- NT$6,000 (US$200) to NT$30,000 -- for those who fail to make improvements within the alloted time, Wan said.

From 2017-2019, the average fine imposed on business operators for failing to maintain proper fire safety was NT$18,641, and only 3 percent of the 110,819 businesses instructed to make improvements were fined, Wan said.

Clearly, the current Fire Services Act fails to serve as deterrence, Wan said, adding that she will propose an amendment to the act so businesses can be fined immediately after being found in violation, and increase the maximum fine to NT$500,000.

Kuomintang Legislator Hung Mong-kai (洪孟楷) proposed raising the minimum prison term for business operators whose failure to maintain proper fire safety results in serious injury or death from a fire.

The minimum prison term should be raised from one year to three years in the case of death, and from six months to one year for serious injuries, Hung said.

The current act stipulates that if a business operator fails to maintain fire safety, and such failings are determined to be directly responsible for fatalities caused by a fire, the operator can be sentenced to one to seven years in jail, on top of a NT$1-5 million fine.

In cases where someone is seriously injured in a fire, operators can be sentenced to prison for six months to five years, and fined NT$500,000-NT$2.5 million.

(By Liu Chien-pang, Liang Pei-chi, Liu Kuan-ting and Chiang Yi-ching)

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