UIJEONGBU, South Korea - Fire billowed from the Uijeongbu gymnasium adjacent to Red Cloud Garrison here as 5,000 citizens were packed inside for the city's annual civic holiday program.

Black toxic smoke poured out of the facility as people frantically ran in every direction looking for a route to escape the spreading flames and heavy smoke. The injured already littered the ground. Sirens screamed as tens of fire trucks arrived on the scene.

Fortunately, the Oct. 13 event was merely a joint comprehensive emergency preparedness training exercise designed to test the city's ability to respond to an emergency. About 250 officials from 17 organizations including firefighter, police, medical, military and the Korean Red Cross participated in the annual disaster training exercise, along with the Red Cloud Garrison fire department.

"This training is to use all the organizations and people related to disaster efficiently and deal with disaster rapidly," said Park Jong-in, Uijeongbu Fire Department chief.

On this day, the firefighters hurriedly rescued some virtual casualties from the gym as others used a rope gun to provide an escape mechanism for people whose exits were blocked by the flames. Other attempts to reach the injured were thwarted by illegally parked automobiles that blocked the thoroughfare to another entry point.

"It's important to extinguish a fire within five minutes from the time it occurs and our failure to do it resulted in additional casualties and property damage," said Kim O-gi, a firefighter from the Uijeongbu Fire Department, about the virtual exercise.

Red Cloud Garrison, like other military installations throughout South Korea, has a mutual aid agreement with its neighboring fire department.

"We're committed to minimizing any damage by maintaining a good mutual assistance system with the Uijeongbu Fire Department," Pak Sung-hak, Red Cloud Garrison assistant fire chief said.

The Uijeongbu fire chief expressed his appreciation to the Red Cloud Garrison Fire Department for its quick response during the exercise.

The training was completed when the last of the virtual injured were recovered and the fire was extinguished by the Uijeongbu Emergency Rescue Control Group.

After watching the training and receiving a final report from Shin Jong-in, the on-scene incident commander, Uijeongbu Mayor Ahn Byeong-yong expressed his appreciation to all the participating organizations.