The nations first responders have been found lacking
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.