Firemens' call for more help was lost

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am

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Firemen battling a fatal factory blaze in Cheung Sha Wan last year could not understand why reinforcements did not arrive after the severity of the fire was upgraded - until they found out the message had not got through.

Additional firefighters and equipment should have been sent at once after officers at the scene upgraded the fire from a No 1 alarm to a No 3, the coroner's court heard.

The message was first sent to the Fire Department's control centre just after 9.30am, but the extra trucks arrived more than half an hour later.

Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu was hearing a six-day inquest that began yesterday into the death of senior fireman Yeung Chun-kit, 47, at Everprise Knitters in the Lai Cheong Factory Building on March 8 last year.

The class one fire was redesignated class three, then class four.

Acting division officer Ng Wai-shing said he had suggested raising the alarm to No 3 when he took over control of the scene from senior station officer Chow Wai-yip at 9.32am.

Questioned by coroner's officer Steven Kwan, Ng said he heard Chow give instructions via walkie-talkie to raise the fire to class three. 'I saw Chow relay the message,' he said.

The control centre usually sent additional help automatically when the alarm level was raised without need for specific instructions, the court heard.

Chow said that when Ng asked him at 9.50am why the extra trucks had not arrived, 'I knew something was wrong'. He notified the centre again and the trucks came 10 to 15 minutes later.

Ng said that after he had checked with Chow about the reclassification message, the smoke was black and thick, leading him to decide to shoot water from outside the building and to ensure firemen inside retreated.

After the support arrived and the fire was brought under better control, Yeung and four others entered the factory unit, but while the others emerged after a while, Yeung did not, Ng said. Other firemen later brought him out, seemingly unconscious.

The court heard that the Everprise Knitters unit housed yarn and machinery that employees would switch off at the end of each working day. Two staff members at the factory, where smoking was barred, were regular smokers. One of them, Tong Tang-cheong, said he would douse cigarette butts by putting them in a can with water or stepping on them.

The inquest continues.