Family blames Fire Department
A family member of a fireman who died in a blaze in a Cheung Sha Wan factory building said yesterday the Fire Services Department had to take responsibility, while a lawyer representing the department said he had died of natural causes.
The two parties were giving their final submissions at the inquest into the death of senior fireman Yeung Chun-kit, who died on March 8 last year, aged 47, after being sent to a burning unit occupied by Everprise Knitters on the fifth floor of the Lai Cheong Factory Building.
Three family members - two men and the fireman's widow, May Ngan Yuk-mei - attended the hearing at the Coroner's Court yesterday.
One of them, a man whose identity could not be confirmed, criticised the department, noting that a message upgrading the severity of the fire from a first to a third-level alarm had been deleted by a staff member, that firemen who entered the scene to save Yeung Chun-kit had not brought a spare oxygen tank with them, and that walkie-talkie communication channels could have been jammed due to the traffic from the large number of people using them.
He also said the fireman in charge at the scene of the fire had failed to ensure that all firefighters who entered the blaze scene left the activation keys and tags for their personal alarm systems with him before going in, as they are taught to do in training.
The alarms, attached to the firemen, sound when the firefighter has not moved for a certain period of time, and can make it easier for them to be found. The alarms in use at the time of the fire had to be activated by removing a key in them.
But Francis Yip Kim-ming, representing the department, said: 'Clearly, it was a death by natural causes.'
Whatever delay there might have been in the reclassification of the fire, he said, it had no bearing on the fireman's death. Yip noted the department had since made some changes and that new alarm systems now in place are activated without the removal of a key and have easily viewable indicators showing the performance of the equipment. As for the family's concern about the deleted messages regarding the fire's grading, he said staff members now must confirm the deletion rather than being able to simply delete them.
Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu adjourned the case until today to give the jury directions.
A pathologist earlier said that Yeung Chun-kit had died of atherosclerotic heart disease while exposed to a fire and the toxic effect of carbon monoxide.
The court earlier heard that the Everprise Knitters unit housed machinery that employees would switch off at the end of each working day and yarn, and that some staff were regular smokers.
The court had previously heard that firemen had entered the unit to search for Yeung Chun-kit to no avail. They then went in a second time and located him, but were unable to remove him. It was only on the third try that they were able to take him out.