Fire chief defiantly defends tenure

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am


The outgoing fire chief defended himself yesterday against criticism that firefighting equipment was poor and his farewell party too gaudy, saying that some of the reports were 'made up' by the media.

Gregory Lo Chun-hung, 57, retires on Monday after 38 years of public service, to be replaced by deputy director Andy Chan Chor-kam, 54.

Lo's four-year tenure has been marked by controversy over everything from firefighters' ageing equipment to sluggish procurements to, during his final days, his farewell party, which some officers described as a vanity project.

But the exiting chief struck a defiant tone to start his final week.

'Some problems were simply made up,' Lo said, citing, for example, reports that water could seep into air meters on the department's newly purchased breathing apparatuses.

'In fact, it is just made up,' Lo said. 'It cannot be the case. We have demonstrated it by putting the air meter into water and proved that no water could penetrate it.'

Lo also defended the response to a 2008 Mong Kok blaze that killed four, including two firefighters, and spurred calls for the department to upgrade the breathing apparatuses and other outdated equipment.

An inquest into the fire at Cornwall Court revealed the fallen firefighters were using inadequate radios and breathing apparatuses that contained too little oxygen during the rescue operation. Similar problems persisted two years later at another blaze at a Cheung Sha Wan factory where another fireman died.

Finally, in January, the government's Efficiency Unit issued a blistering report, criticising the department for its lack in planning, manpower and an integrated computer system for major procurements.

Lo said it took time to get approvals needed to make the purchases.

'We have been doing our jobs, but unfortunately accidents happened,' he said.

Lo also rejected charges made by unnamed officers in media reports that a big farewell party held on Monday was his 'personal show'. He defended the event as an occasion for officers to socialise and for the department to say, 'Thank you,' to people who supported them.

Lo said he planned to spend his retirement hiking and doing volunteer work.

Tse Sau-lung, vice-chairman of Fire Services Department Staffs General Association, described Lo as a 'loyal civil servant' who barely scored a passing grade as a director. He hoped Lo's successor would be more innovative, solve some long-standing welfare problems and improve staff training.

A retired ambulancemen said Lo failed to mend the bad relationship between ambulance officers and the department, with resources tilted heavily toward the side of firefighters.