Boss questioned over fatal blaze

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 August, 2009, 12:00am

A manager at an electroplating factory where a fire broke out and killed a fireman two years ago did not know whether the factory's sprinklers were inspected regularly.

Vast Tech Limited operations manager Chan Tak-san told the Coroner's Court yesterday that he was not sure whether an inspector checked the sprinklers annually or whether anyone had inspected them during his time at the company. The sprinklers were either repaired or installed before the company moved into the factory, he said.

Mr Chan was speaking at the inquest into the death of fireman Wong Ka-hei, who went with other firefighters on May 21, 2007, to put out the blaze on the sixth floor of the 23-storey QPL Industrial Building.

Wong, 27, fell unconscious at the scene and an ambulance took him to Yan Chai Hospital. Less than two hours after the fire broke out, he was declared dead.

Earlier, workers and firemen told the inquest that the sprinklers at the VTL factory did not come on during the fire. One fireman said a stop valve for the sprinkler system's water supply had been found shut. An alarm and a light that usually go off to alert the building's management of the valve shutting were also disabled.

Mr Chan said he did not know that the stop valve existed.

The company bought fire extinguishers and taught staff how to use them. It also showed workers escape routes, Mr Chan said.

Police took swabs from the valve after the fire and sent them to a government chemist to test for DNA, but found none.

Mr Wong said the electroplating production lines ran non-stop. The lines had experienced few problems in the past and had required only minor repairs. They had not short-circuited or overheated before.

Some witnesses have said the fire started in a silver-plating reservoir. Mr Wong said the reservoir was kept at 60 degrees Celsius. The heating rod switched off automatically if it overheated, but there was no alarm if that happened, he said.

Cheung Chung-sing, a doctor who treated Wong from 2000 to 2006, said the fireman had visited him only for minor illnesses. The inquest continues on Monday before Coroner William Ng Sing-wai. A pathologist is expected to testify on the cause of Wong's death.