Two firefighters dead: hundreds rescued from residential building fire. Many still trapped

Two firefighters are dead, and one resident of an apartment building was injured, after hundreds of people were evacuated from a smoke-filled residential building in Hsinchu City last night.

The Hsinchu City Fire Bureau received reports of a fire at a condominium complex in East District at 10:55 pm Sunday, May 26. Fire bureau personnel arrived at the scene and found the source of the fire to be electrical cables producing a large amount of thick smoke. The fire was brought under control at 11:35 pm. However, thick smoke continued to fill the residential building, the building was left without power, and hundreds of residents reported being trapped.

Apartment complex with fire trucks in foreground
Qingkonghui Building, East District, Hsinchu City.

Firefighters undertook a floor by floor search for trapped residents in the 28-floor “Qingkonghui” building. Two firefighters, named Lee and Chou were assigned to the 8th floor, and assisted 20 residents to leave the building. Lee and Chou re-entered the building to continue the search and rescue operation at 11:50 pm. At 12:15 am the two firefighters sent a mayday distress signal.

Firefighters responding to the distress signal found Lee and Chou lying on the ground having lost vital signs in the stairwell between the second and third floor at 12:55 am. The firefighters performed CPR on the stricken firefighters and rushed them to hospital, but both were later declared dead. Lee was 39 years old, and Chou was 34.

A HCFB said that Lee and Chou were found to have removed their oxygen masks, and it is suspected that they had run out of oxygen.

Firefighters Lee and Chou
Firefighters who died in the line of duty: Chou on the left, and Lee on the right.

As of 10:00 am Monday morning, 127 people have been evacuated from the building and 165 remain trapped. Some rescued residents reported that they had taken refuge on their balconies until after dawn.

One resident, a Korean national, was trapped in an elevator between the 14th and 15th floors. The Korean man managed to force the doors slightly open until he had a mobile phone signal. The man contacted his employer and was able to provide his location before closing the elevator doors against the thick, black smoke. Firefighters found the Korean man unconscious, and he was rushed to hospital.

HCFB said that smoke exhaust operations were still underway, and ladder trucks and cranes were being used to evacuate residents from above the 18th floor. The bureau said that smoke was concentrated in the stairwells, and urged residents to remain in their apartments to avoid being affected by smoke in the passages and stairways.

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