Fire services radio system 'not ready'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 February, 2012, 12:00am


Blind spots in tunnels and system hiccups hampered the first full day of operations for the city's firefighters as their new HK$178 million digital radio system was put through its paces, a union official revealed.

The Fire Services Department started using the digital system in June last year to replace its analogue equipment, which was decommissioned yesterday, a spokesman said.

But a firefighters' union official said the system was not ready.

Au Wah-kin, secretary for the Hong Kong Fire Services Department Staffs General Association, said a lack of signal repeaters in some MTR tunnels was causing communication 'blind spots' and some officers had kept the old system on fire engines in case of emergencies.

Au also feared for the safety of people in need, as the system could not yet communicate with Government Flying Service aircraft, which use the analogue system.

'We need to use our old system to talk to them. The communication quality is not very good and directly affects our operations,' he said.

Au said the signal strength of the digital system was low, which meant officers sometimes needed to carry a heavy handheld amplifier into a fire scene if the vehicle-based device failed to penetrate affected buildings.

Weighing between 4kg and 6kg, its use - and the need for another officer to carry the amplifier to the scene - could delay any rescue, he said.

Addressing the concerns, a Fire Services Department spokesman said the digital system would be installed on Government Flying Service aircraft once all approvals had been obtained. In the meantime, handheld analogue radios would be used when needed.

A spokesman for the Government Flying Service said yesterday there had been no problems communicating with the Fire Services Department.

The MTR Corporation said work on installing the signal repeaters in its tunnels and on stations was continuing, but did not give a completion date.

James To Kun-sun, the chairman of the Legislative Council's security panel, urged the department to fix the problems.

'If the problems still exist after the system has been tested for years then it is not simply some bugs in the system, but problems to do with the whole system,' he said.

An inquest into the death of two firefighters at a blaze at Cornwall Court, Mong Kok, in 2008 revealed their radio system was inadequate. Similar problems arose two years later at another blaze at a Cheung Sha Wan factory where a fireman died.