The na­tions first re­spon­ders have been found lack­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

More than 500 peo­ple, most of them young peo­ple en­joy­ing the be­gin­ning of the sum­mer va­ca­tion, were in­jured in one of the worst ac­ci­dents in the re­cent history of Tai­wan when a “color play” party, in which pow­der of var­ied hues is spread on revel­ers, went ter­ri­bly wrong on Satur­day.

The ex­act cause of the fire that en­gulfed hun­dreds of par­ty­go­ers at the wa­ter park in­side the Formosa Fun Coast in Bali, New Taipei, has yet to be de­ter­mined but ev­i­dence points to a dust ex­plo­sion, the sud­den ig­ni­tion of a mix­ture of air and con­cen­tra­tions of com­bustible fine par­ti­cles, as a pos­si­ble fac­tor.

The high ca­su­alty rate over­whelmed the med­i­cal emer­gency sys­tem in the Greater Taipei area. Hun­dreds of in­jured vic­tims were left to wait for treat­ment at the scene hours af­ter the ac­ci­dent. With more than 180 vic­tims ad­mit­ted into in­ten­sive care units in hos­pi­tals across the re­gion, Tai­wan’s med­i­cal ca­pa­bil­ity for deal­ing with such a large num­ber of pa­tients suf­fer­ing se­ri­ous burns si­mul­ta­ne­ously was se­ri­ously tested.

The next few days will be cru­cial as med­i­cal teams race against the clock to sta­bi­lize pa­tients with lifethreat­en­ing in­juries. Peo­ple are ad­vised to avoid us­ing emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices as much as pos­si­ble to free up much-needed re­sources. Emer­gency med­i­cal staff across Tai­wan have long been over­worked in a na­tion where the abuse of ER ser­vices is not un­com­mon.

Hun­dreds of burnt pa­tients will face a long road to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion both phys­i­cally and men­tally. It is a time for peo­ple in Tai­wan to show sol­i­dar­ity and give what­ever sup­port pos­si­ble to the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. In the near term, skin do­na­tions can be crit­i­cal as a large num­ber of peo­ple will need skin trans­plants. The Min­istry of Health and Wel­fare has al­ready started co­or­di­nat­ing the re­al­lo­ca­tion of avail­able skin — ei­ther ar­ti­fi­cial skin or donor skin — from across Tai­wan. Skin and or­gan do­na­tion is still un­com­mon in a cul­ture where many value the in­tegrity of the body of the de­ceased. It is time to pro­mote the idea that help­ing peo­ple in need is one of the best things a per­son can do at the end of his or her life. Vol­un­teers, es­pe­cially those with med­i­cal and post­trauma stress coun­sel­ing ex­per­tise, can also be very help­ful. Peo­ple at the scene of the ac­ci­dent gave the best ex­am­ple by help­ing their fel­low par­ty­go­ers wounded in the fire de­spite their own in­juries and shock.

Another good way to help is to stop caus­ing ad­di­tional harm, for ex­am­ple by not re­post­ing the hor­rific im­ages of the fire and those in­jured, not tak­ing ad­van­tage of the vic­tims, not mak­ing hurt­ful jokes at their ex­pense and not spread­ing ru­mors about the ac­ci­dent. Sadly all of these have been done in the past 24 hours. A man was ar­rested late Satur­day for pick­ing up wal­lets vic­tims left be­hind amid the chaos at the wa­ter park. While lo­cal media were quick to de­nounce the thief as “shame­less” for his se­ri­ous lack of com­pas­sion, some media out­lets can be ac­cused of the same by re­peat­edly run­ning im­ages of the vic­tims for the sake of rat­ings. Some TV news chan­nels went as far as loop­ing for hours a 15- sec­ond video clip of peo­ple burn­ing in fire, even keep­ing it run­ning dur­ing com­mer­cials in a split screen as if it was some kind of ball­game high­lights. Media that made such a sense­less de­ci­sion were tak­ing ad­van­tage of the vic­tims just as the thief did and have ar­guably caused more harm to them.

The tragedy has shown the lim­its of Tai­wan’s emer­gency re­sponse ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Even the Greater Taipei area, which has the most med­i­cal re­sources in the na­tion, has been found want­ing in the wake of a ma­jor event. The gov­ern­ment should take lessons from the ac­ci­dent and re­form its first re­sponse sys­tem ac­cord­ingly. It should also pre­vent sim­i­lar ac­ci­dents from hap­pen­ing by con­duct­ing thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tions to pin­point the cause of the fire and to de­ter­mine if the or­ga­niz­ers of the party- turned- tragedy are re­spon­si­ble for it.

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