Inquiry team reports on hillfire

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 April, 1996, 12:00am

An emergency medical taskforce should be deployed in multiple-casualty incidents, the Pat Sin Leng inquiry team has said.

But the team would not comment yesterday on why only two paramedics and two ambulances from the 100-strong Auxiliary Medical Services' force were mobilised when the extent of the hill fire was realised.

Two teachers and three pupils died in the blaze, which engulfed school trekkers as they made their way up a steep nature trail on February 10.

Principal Assistant Secretary for Security Andrew Kluth said discussion about the deployment of the volunteer taskforce would prejudice inquests into the causes of the five deaths.

For the same reason, there was no comment on the investigation into the cause of the fire.

The inquiry team said the decision to take all the casualties to Tai Po accident and emergency clinic, instead of taking some direct to the Prince of Wales Hospital, in Sha Tin, was correct.

They said ambulancemen were not qualified to make on-the-spot assessments.

Their report says: 'The best way to handle multiple casualties is to have medical professionals present at the scene to assess their conditions and decide which medical facilities the casualties should be taken to.' It said that ambulancemen were not trained to make those decisions.

The report says: 'The team noted that both the Hospital Authority and the Auxiliary Medical Service have the ability to send mobile emergency teams to any major incident for [assessment] and treatment purposes.' Mr Kluth defended the decision not to mobilise the Government Secretariat Emergency Co-ordination Centre, saying the Fire Services Department was dealing with the hill fire.

He said: '[The centre's] function is to deal with very widespread situations where the ability of the disciplinary services to co-ordinate within their own capability is deemed stretched.

'It would just have added another level of communication and co-ordination. In circumstances where you are looking for a quick and simple response, this would not have been desirable.' The report's 29 recommendations, some of which have already been acted upon, include improving rescue equipment.

They also say there should be better guidelines for school outdoor activities.

As the South China Morning Post revealed last month, firemen are to receive training in basic mountain search and rescue techniques. A training programme is being devised with the assistance of the Civil Aid Services.

A joint exercise testing the co-ordinated response of the emergency services, including the Government Flying Service, to a hill fire or mountain rescue is to be staged annually.