Teacher killed in laboratory fire at university

A fire investigator stands in the ashes of a blaze at the University of Health Sciences
A fire investigator stands in the ashes of a blaze at the University of Health Sciences. Heng Chivoan

Teacher killed in laboratory fire at university

Tragedy prompts prime minister to call for private sector to contribute to fire safety

A teacher was killed yesterday when a fire broke out at the University of Health Sciences (UHS) in Phnom Penh, prompting Prime Minister Hun Sen to call on the private sector to improve fire safety.

Laboratory teacher Huy Seab, 32, was setting up his second-floor laboratory at the university on Monivong Boulevard when the blaze broke out about 6:30am, according to his sister Em Soksopisey, 18, who said flammable chemicals, including a 90-litre container of alcohol, were stored in the room.

“The fire … might have been caused by gas mixed with alcohol,” said Soksopisey, a business administration student at the university.

“Some people said that when it happened my brother yelled ‘help me’, but when the gas exploded no one could help him.”

Phnom Penh Fire Service deputy director Sok Vannra said the initial cause of the blaze, which was confined to the small laboratory, was still being investigated.

He said two fire trucks with 12 firefighters arrived within 10 minutes and doused the fire in five minutes but Seab – who may have been trying to extinguish the blaze himself – could not be saved.

Shortly after the blaze, Prime Minister Hun Sen in a speech called on the private sector to participate in efforts to reduce fires, adding that Friday’s tragedy may have been preventable.

“I hope the private sector can help in putting out fires whenever they happen in factories, enterprises, companies or hotels,” Hun Sen said while speaking at a Cambodian Red Cross event.

“This kind of situation should not happen,” he said of Seab’s death.

“If there is a water system there, it could be used to put out fire and save the life.”

UHS Rector Saphon Vathanak said the university was waiting on the police investigation, but added that the incident was “just an accident” before hanging up.

Soksopisey described her brother as kind and generous. She said the family left yesterday to arrange his Seab’s funeral in his home village in Preah Sihanouk province.

“I still can’t believe this has happened to my brother – he is really polite and always happy. He was a good teacher. Everyone respected him – he never had an argument with another.”

Hun Sen said the government was finding money to equip more than 200 fire trucks for provincial police, and encouraged private businesses such as factories and hotels to buy their own, noting there was no import tax on fire trucks.

Hun Sen added: “The private sector should have firefighters and … workplaces [should be] equipped with water installations for fire trucks so that, whenever a fire happens, fire fighters can take water there because in some places there is no water.”

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