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64-year-old man dies during fitness test for forest fire watchers

This counts as the fourth related death since last year

Applicants for forest fire watchers undergo fitness tests in the field. (Yonhap)
Applicants for forest fire watchers undergo fitness tests in the field. (Yonhap)
A 64-year-old man, who ran a fried-chicken restaurant located in Jangsu, North Jeolla Province, passed away in a tryout for forest fire watchers, police said Monday.

The man lost consciousness during the fitness test held at a gym in Jangsu in the afternoon on Jan. 29, then later died, according to the Jeonbuk Police Station.

At the time of the accident, the man had been carrying a 15-kilogram backpack equipped with an oxygen pump while running along a 1.2-kilometer track. The man reportedly collapsed about halfway through, which was around the 600-meter mark.

Medical staff who were on standby at the scene, urgently carried the man to the nearby hospital while conducting cardiopulmonary resuscitation in the ambulance, but he died before reaching the hospital.

The man, who had been running a small restaurant for 20 years in Jangsu, was said to have been suffering from financial difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The man wanted to work as a forest fire watchman during the day, while still running his business at the restaurant in the evening,” the man’s acquaintance told a national media outlet.

The man had always lived a diligent life, although he went through financial difficulties, the acquaintance was quoted as saying.

A total of 69 people applied for the 44 positions in the recruitment process. If hired, the hourly wage is around 69,800 won ($ 62.4).

Public opinion has been split on whether to set age limits or to further ease physical requirements to prevent similar accidents from happening.

Last year, three similar deaths occurred during the same recruitment process for forest fire watchers.

The Korea Forest Service said earlier they would relax the criteria for fitness tests at the end of January by extending the completion time limit from 14 to 30 minutes and cutting down the running distance from 1.2 kilometers to 1 kilometer. 

The new rules are expected to be officially implemented starting Feb. 17.

By Kim Hae-yeon (