Sprinkler systems to be focus of law review
Olga Wong and Phyllis Tsang
A fire services chief has promised a review of the law to improve fire safety in old buildings that lack sprinkler systems.
But a professor of architecture who studies fire safety said installing sprinklers in such buildings could be difficult as they might not be strong enough to support the water tanks.
They were speaking a day after a veteran fire officer was killed in a fire at an old Cheung Sha Wan factory building without sprinklers.
Deputy director of Fire Services Chan Chor-kam said the department would review the need to amend fire safety laws or to introduce measures to improve fire equipment in industrial buildings built before 1973, when they were first required to have sprinklers.
'Currently, no legislation requires [pre-1973] industrial buildings to improve their fire safety standards.'
Chan said, however, that discretion had been given to some owners to encourage them to make improvements, such as requiring smaller water tanks than those specified for new structures.
Cheung Kwok-bun, a professor of architecture at the University of Hong Kong who studies fire safety issues, said requiring old industrial buildings to have sprinklers installed that complied with up-to-date standards could be difficult. Sprinklers would require a water tank with a volume of about 75 cubic metres.
'The rooftop structure of old industrial blocks is usually weak while the ground floor is often occupied with shops and car parks,' Cheung said. 'The government may have to reduce the required size of the water tank or allow owners to put a tank on adjoining government land.'
He said a smaller tank, such as one of 10 cubic metres, would supply sprinklers for about 10 minutes.
'This is enough to stop a fire spreading from one unit to another, as firemen will arrive within six minutes of receiving a call,' he said.
Lawmakers agreed there was a need to review fire safety legislations.
Lau Kong-wah suggested making sprinklers compulsory, as more industrial buildings were revitalised and put to other uses.
Audrey Eu Yuet-mee supported amending the fire safety laws. 'Sprinkler systems are a very basic requirement in fire safety. They can control and reduce the damage or casualties in a blaze.'
A Fire Services Department survey in 1998 found there were about 650 pre-1973 industrial buildings in the city.