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Tuesday, June 28, 2016, 13:21

CE proposes medals for perished firefighters

By Shadow Li

CE proposes medals for perished firefighters
Families, friends, and colleagues of fireman Thomas Cheung Yiu-sing stand in silence during a memorial outside Amoycan Industrial Centre, where he fell. (Edmond Tang / C hina Daily)

HONG KONG — Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Tuesday said medals should be awarded posthumously to two firefighters who died fighting a four-alarm fire which consumed a mini-storage facility in Ngau Tau Kok last week - as the city mourns the pair.

He said the July 1 cocktail reception hosted by the SAR government will be toned down this year as a mark of respect to 30-year-old Thomas Cheung Yiu-sing, survived by his widow and 4-month-old infant son, and 37-year-old Samuel Hui Chi-kit, survived by his widow and 7-year-old son.

Speaking before the weekly Executive Council meeting, Leung said he will not attend the annual July 1 celebrations organized by various civic groups, marking the return of Hong Kong to the motherland.

"The SAR government and I have attached great importance to this fire since it broke out a week ago…We, just like the rest of society, highly recognize and appreciate their (firefighters’) devotion and work. I believe that the two firemen, as well as their colleagues, deserve recognition,” said Leung.

In the wake of the deadly fire, the government is planning a cross-departmental operation involving departments of fire services, buildings, lands, and labor to inspect mini-storage facilities.

After this, the government plans to strengthen regulations for mini-storage facilities through legislation, since the recent fire showed existing regulations were inadequate.

Speaking after a joint operation on Tuesday by the Fire Services Department and the Buildings Department to inspect a mini-storage facility in Tai Kok Tsui, Fire Services Department Building Improvement Division officer Fung Chung-kam said the government plans to inspect more than 400 such facilities across the city within two months.

But first, it will start with 154 of them, which are at industrial buildings without sprinklers systems, said Fung. The current law in Hong Kong doesn't require industrial buildings built decades ago to upgrade their outdated fire safety standards.

But an expert on fire safety remains skeptical about how these buildings can be upgraded to meet current fire safety requirements.

Chair Professor of Architectural Science and Fire Engineering at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University Chow Wan-ki said it is very hard for old industrial buildings to make structural changes – such as the expansion of escape routes or adding water tanks on the rooftop - that meet current fire safety standards.

It was unavoidable that the fire safety of such buildings can only be strengthened through software control, that is, fire safety management, said Chow.

Explaining that the government’s attempt to inspect those facilities was the first step, Chow said the government needs to check the fire safety situation before it introduces legislation or helps property owners to upgrade old buildings.

Chow said a comprehensive fire safety management should comprise maintenance, staff training and fire action plans. This includes what to do when a fire break out. Some large organizations, such as MTR, will need a fire prevention plan as well.

The fatal blaze started on June 21. It took five days to extinguish it, making it the most persistent fire in over two decades. Residents were forced to evacuate; shops in the neighborhood had to shut down for days. Nearby traffic routes were sealed off as about 200 firemen were mobilized to fight the fire.


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