Number of deliberate fires up 80pc
But service chief says a drop in false alarms saw fewer call-outs for brigade last year
The number of fires set deliberately rose by more than 80 per cent last year, according to the latest fire department figures.
Fire brigades were called out to 49 deliberate fire cases, including arson, last year, compared with 27 in 2005, while 788 fires of undetermined causes were reported.
Director of Fire Services Joe Kwok Jing-keung said: 'The number of deliberate acts is not that alarming. It reflects anti-social behaviour. Some cases involve a criminal element, while some involve vandalism.'
Deliberate acts include those such as burning effigies at demonstrations.
The overall number of calls made to fire stations fell by almost 12 per cent, with 33,268 calls being made, compared to 37,741 in 2005.
The number of No3 or above fires alarms increased from six in 2005 to 14 last year, while the number of hill fires fell by a quarter, from 1,663 in 2005 to 1,232.
Mr Kwok said the reduction in the overall number of calls was mainly due to a fall in the number of false alarms, including malicious fake calls and defective fire detector calls, which are classified as 'unwanted alarms'.
There were 3,920 fewer unwanted alarms and 190 fewer false alarms last year.
'We have a problem with fire detectors, particularly when the atmosphere's humidity is high,' he said. 'In 2005, we had many more of these, especially in February, which was very wet.'
Mr Kwok said his department had carried out a study to determine how to deal with the problem of faulty fire detectors.
Last year, 14 people were killed by fire, including eight in residential blazes, while 380 were injured and 2,107 rescued.
Fire Services Department personnel, like those of the other disciplined services, have not received a pay increase since 1997.
Mr Kwok said he hoped fire officers would be given a pay rise this year, which in turn may help attract recruits from the private sector.
'We don't see a problem in the ambulancemen or firemen grade, but there may be a problem [attracting] officers,' he said.
The department plans to recruit 317 more staff this year, including 137 fire fighters and 118 ambulance officers.
Initiatives by the fire and ambulance services to be undertaken this year include a plan to ask operators of public places to provide defibrillators for emergency use by the public.
They also will build a diving training centre at Stonecutters Island and introduced a three-month trial programme for two rapid-response vehicles in remote areas of the New Territories.
Last year, 575,666 calls for ambulance services were made, a daily average of 1,577. Of those, 539,903 were emergency calls.
In 92.5 per cent of cases, the service's response met the government's pledge of attendance at the scene within 12 minutes of receiving the call.