Fireman's air ran out too soon, inquest told

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 August, 2009, 12:00am

The fireman who died while attempting to put out a class three blaze at an electroplating factory in Tsuen Wan two years ago cried out that he had no air while escaping and shortly before falling unconscious.

'No air! No air!' Wong Ka-hei said as he crawled from the blaze. Senior fireman Chin Kwok-ming radioed the message to their team. Shortly afterwards, he turned to find Wong no longer responsive, he told the inquest into Wong's death yesterday.

The fire broke out close to midnight on May 21, 2007, on the sixth floor of the 23-storey QPL Industrial Building, where the Vast Tech Limited factory was located. Less than two hours later, Wong, 27, was declared dead at Yan Chai Hospital.

But Poon Wai-kit, the principal fireman monitoring how long each firefighter spent in the blazing room, said Wong's breathing apparatus should still have contained compressed air because he had not been inside for long. Mr Poon orders firemen to leave a fire scene when their air capacities drop below a certain level, but he was not due to remove Wong by the time he was carried out.

The firemen who brought Wong to safety could not recall whether his apparatus contained air or whether an alarm went off to signify it had dropped to a dangerously low level.

At the ambulance, he was not breathing, had no pulse, and had second-degree burns on his ears and hands, senior ambulanceman Chu Kai-cheung said.

Wong was certified dead shortly afterwards at Yan Chai Hospital accident and emergency department.

The water supply to the sprinkler system on the floor where the fire occurred had been shut off and its alarm disabled, said Lui Sun-keung, assistant divisional officer at the Fire Services Department. Normally, if the stop valve on a floor's supply is turned off, a control panel lights up and sounds an alarm. But the warning mechanism had been disabled for the sixth floor, Mr Lui said.

It might have been disabled by someone who found the alarm annoying, or because someone wanted no one to know that the water supply had been cut, among many other possibilities, he said. An annual inspection on the sprinklers and water supply had been done, and the building received a fire services installation and equipment certificate in July the year before the incident, he said.

Building owners are required to get such an annual inspection done, according to the Fire Service (Installations and Equipment) Regulations.