Learning lessons from the Mong Kok riot, Hong Kong’s firefighters will undergo enhanced training to tackle emergencies in chaotic situations – especially when their work is hampered by violent protesters.
In one case, a fire was left burning in front of a residential building for more than an hour with the smoke rising 20 metres into the air, while the mob was adding kerosene to the flames and attacking police officers as well as firefighters. A number of residents called 999 for help.
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Director of Fire Services David Lai Man-hin said yesterday that his staff required more training to protect burning buildings by mastering the use of water jets from a distance when they were being obstructed by protesters.
“[Under safe conditions],they should use the water jet as a water curtain to protect the building, so that the fire and the heat won’t spread into the building,” Lai told a year-end press briefing.
“In the future, we will emphasise this kind of training.”
Lai said he would enforce the message that firefighters should not confront angry mobs and should retreat if the situation worsened.
His department will also enhance communication with police, so that firefighters are better protected.
Overall, the department sent 136 firemen, 29 fire engines, 62 ambulances and nearly 200 ambulance personnel to Mong Kok on the night of the riot. No fire services officers were injured in the violence.
Lai described the mob as “out of control”, as some rioters placed bricks under the wheels of fire trucks to stop them moving forward. Some of them even set a taxi on fire.
“If that LPG taxi had exploded, it would have jeopardised the safety of anyone within 22 metres,” he said.
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He ruled out the possibility of unarmed firefighters turning their water hoses on violent mobs for self-defence, saying all their equipment was for putting out fires and rescuing people. Riot control was a job for the police, he stressed.
The department also unveiled the city’s first fire trucks designed specially for tackling emergencies in railway tunnels. The two vehicles, one for fire fighting and the other for rescue, were purchased last year in preparation for emergencies along the 26km underground high-speed railway line linking West Kowloon to the border. The vehicles can run on both roads and along a railway.
“The water-mist fan on the sides can cool down the tunnel while the truck is on the way to the accident point. The shooting distance of the water jet in the front is 65 metres,” said senior station officer Wong Chi-ho.
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Fitted with a rail drive system, the fire engines can cover up to 60 km/h on railway tracks, carrying a crew of eight as well as up to 3,000 litres of water. They were manufactured in Austria and cost HK$11 million each.
Although these highly specialised vehicles are ready for immediate action, the long-delayed Hong Kong section of the express rail link to Guangzhou will only be completed in the third quarter of 2018. For the time being, they will be used for training at the Fire and Ambulance Services Academy.
After the rail link opens, they will be stationed in Shek Kong, which is only 17km from the West Kowloon terminus.