Paramedics upgraded on emergency births
The city's 2,700 ambulance officers will be given extra training in how to deliver babies to help cope with the growing number of mainland women rushing to hospitals in Hong Kong at the last minute to give birth.
Some 1,453 mainland women gave birth in emergency wards in the first 11 months of last year, almost triple the number in the whole of 2010, a rise blamed on restrictions on the number of mainlanders allowed to book maternity beds in Hong Kong.
Matthew Leung Shiu-hong, the Fire Services Department's assistant director responsible for ambulance services, said the number of pregnant women calling an ambulance remained steady at between 100 and 200 every month.
'Some [pregnant mainland women] choose to stay near the hospitals. They do not need to take any vehicle in the event of an emergency delivery,' Leung said.
The department has decided to step up training of ambulance officers, who already take lessons on childbirth as part of their 26 weeks of basic training. It has bought 37 specially designed mannequins that simulate the birthing process, each at a cost of HK$22,000, and related instructional DVDs.
A talk on the birthing process will also form part of a two-day continuing education course that all paramedics undergo every three years.
Doctors and Hospital Authority bosses have warned mainland women of the dangers of waiting until well into labour to seek medical help, saying the practice could lead to dangers for both mother and child.
Chan Shi-ki, chairman of the Fire Services Department Ambulancemen's Union, said he doubted whether the models would help paramedics who had to deal with complications during a birth. Officers should visit hospitals to observe real deliveries.
'Whether we can handle childbirth cases well will greatly affect the future of the newborn babies,' he said.
Meanwhile, Andy Chan Chor-kam, director of fire services, said the department would discipline four firefighters and one control room officer who did not follow procedures during a blaze in a Cheung Sha Wan factory building in 2010, which claimed the life of senior fireman Yeung Chun-kit and injured three other officers.
A Coroner's Court last year found attending firefighters did not activate their personal alarms, which sound after the person does not move for 20 seconds. An officer in the control centre had also deleted a message raising the first alarm to a third, delaying more assistance.
Chan refused to reveal what punishment the officers would face or give details of the mistakes they made. Yeung's elder brother, Chun-chor, said management should share the blame for his death.
The department received 34,188 fire calls last year, down 15.8 per cent. There were 123 factory fires, an increase of 98.4 per cent.
Last year the department checked fire safety equipment in 1,150 buildings dated to before 1987, but issued only eight summonses. James Ng Kuen-chi, assistant director for fire safety, said some discretion was exercised over older buildings as it was difficult to improve fire safety equipment in structures that did not have an owners' committee.
The department's new 600-strong hazardous material team will be assigned to four fire stations after the officers complete their training next month.
The department is also planning to buy a special fire engine that can run on both roads and railways for use when the Hong Kong-Guangzhou Express Rail Link is completed, as well as new breathing aids.
The drop in calls made to the Fire Services Department last year, to a total of 34,188, over 2009