16 February 2019
Firefighters are facing scrutiny over their response to a blaze at an apartment building in Wan Chai on Tuesday. Photos: Xinhua, HKEJ
Firefighters are facing scrutiny over their response to a blaze at an apartment building in Wan Chai on Tuesday. Photos: Xinhua, HKEJ

Fire dept faces questions after Wan Chai blaze

A fire incident in Wan Chai has led to questions being raised about the adequacy of the Fire Services Department (FSD) in terms of equipment and preparedness.

On Tuesday, a blaze broke out from a flat on the eighth floor of Kai Ming Building on 364 Hennessy Road at around 12:45 pm. The flames soon spread to another flat on the sixth floor.

The FSD mobilized 100 firemen, 16 fire engines and two Breathing Apparatus Teams after it was alerted about the accident.

However, it took the personnel about 90 minutes to put out the blaze.

Lam Yuk-kwan, the FSD’s Hong Kong Central divisional commander, said firemen followed regular procedures as they first deployed the fire hoses from inside the building.

However, as the water pressure from the building’s fire services installation was unstable, the personnel had no alternative but to resort to fire hydrants on the road side and laying hoses all the way up to the eighth floor, Lam said.

Observers, however, pointed to several embarrassing events in the fire-fighting operation.

They noted that water coming out of the fire hose on a rescue truck’s ladder was weak, and that the fire hoses on the ground were damaged by falling objects from the units on fire.

Lam refuted the criticism, saying that the purpose of the hoses from the aerial ladder was mainly to prevent fire spreading to other units.

Because of the huge pressure involved and the backward reaction force, the water pressure could only be increased incrementally on the aerial ladder, he said.

Ironically, the 50-year-old building had conducted a major overhaul, including its fire services installation, two years ago with subsidy assistance from the Urban Renewal Authority.

Given the huge density of high-rise residential buildings in Wan Chai, there are worries that the fire services department is falling short in terms of its ability to deal with potential accidents.

Yuen Wing-shu, chairman of the Incorporated Owners of Kai Ming Building, said the FSD had approved the building’s fire services installation designs and that related work has been completed.

The cause of the blaze is being investigated.

Luckily the accident did not result in any casualties. But two persons were taken to a hospital due to smoke inhalation.

The sixth to ninth floors of the building were sealed overnight for inspection by government departments. Affected residents were taken to a temporary shelter in Wan Chai.

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