Almost one year after a blaze at a mini-storage facility wrought havoc at an industrial building and claimed the lives of two firefighters, authorities haven’t made much headway in getting operators of such businesses to fully comply with all the fire safety requirements.
According to data released Thursday, the Fire Services Department had issued nearly 5,000 fire hazard abatement notices to 764 out of the 885 mini-storage facilities in the city, but only three facilities have acted fully on the instructions.
The compliance rate on the notices overall stood at just 5 percent, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
According to Deputy Chief Fire Officer Chui Man-leung, there are still many problems with regard to the self-storage facilities, such as improper locks to the emergency exits and fire hose reels being not long enough.
In many facilities, it was found that there was insufficient signage to guide people toward exits and offer directions. Among other issues, some buildings did not have enough windows. In some cases, windows were found blocked as objects had been placed against them.
Asked what he thinks of the low compliance rate, Chui did not give a straight answer. But he said his department understands that operators need more time to meet the fire safety requirements.
Chui noted that compliance deadlines on issued fire hazard abatement notices can be extended as long as the department sees the operators actively working on the existing problems. He didn’t say if there is a time limit for such extension.
Some operators are said to have objected to a rule that stipulated that the isle used to separate rows of mini-storage facilities from each other must be at least 2.4 meters wide.
The operators suggested an alternative proposal under which the facilities would merely be covered by fire-proof board, according to the report.
Chui said the department is looking favorably at the suggestion. But it does not mean the bureau is making compromises, he said, stressing that authorities are merely having an open attitude and showing that they are ready for a dialogue with the operators.
Hung Kai-kei, chairman of the Hong Kong Mini-Storages Association, which was founded in January this year, was quoted as saying that operators are glad that the department is accepting their proposal.
However, he said it is hard to estimate when operators can complete renovation of their facilities since it takes time to make design changes, and as such activities also need the cooperation of customers.
According to Hung, at least a hundred mini-storage facilities have suspended operations as they face financial pressures due to renovation requirements.
Following a fire at a Nau Tau Kok industrial building in late June last year, authorities launched inspections of all the mini-storage facilities in the city and issued notices after finding several violations of fire safety rules.
The government, meanwhile, also set up an interdepartmental task force to investigate the deadly incident.
One year on, the public is still awaiting a report from the special panel, and whether authorities believe there is a case of criminal liability, given that two firemen died as a result of the blaze, which took more than 100 hours to be extinguished.
Asked about the matter, the fire department said investigations so far have shown nothing suspicious about the fire.
The special panel’s report is expected to be completed by the end of the year, it said.
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