Success of fire hose pilot scheme spares 300 old Hong Kong buildings from extensive fire safety upgrades

System tested by Fire Services Department allows water to be drawn from underground pipes instead of requiring installation of tanks and pumps for fire-fighting purposes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 8:52am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 8:52am

Owners of nearly 300 old three-storey composite buildings have been spared the need to install water tanks and pumps for fire-fighting purposes, thanks to the smooth running of a pilot scheme for an improvised hose reel system being tested by the city’s fire services.

Under the Fire Safety Ordinance, which came into force in 2007, buildings constructed in or before March 1987 were required to upgrade their fire service installations and equipment.

Chiu Wai-kin, senior divisional officer from the Fire Services Department building improvement division, said old buildings three storeys or less in height might face structural or spatial constraints in carrying out fire safety improvement works.

“These blocks are relatively tiny. It is difficult to find space to install a 2,000 litre water tank and pump,” Chiu said, adding that such blocks also had issues with fragmented ownership.

In May last year, the Fire Services Department and the Water Supplies Department rolled out a pilot scheme for an improvised hose reel system in five selected old three-storey buildings for both residential and commercial uses, including a 108-year-old one in Kowloon City.

The system, which costs around HK$100,000 and takes a year to install, enables the hose to draw water directly from underground water pipes.

“This also helps the owners to save 50 per cent of cost and time,” Chiu said.

The department inspected 288 old composite buildings that were three-storeys or shorter, and issued directions to 174 of them.

Chiu said more than 200 contractors had shown willingness to do such construction work, and he hoped the buildings would use the new system as an alternative when upgrading their fire service installations.

The deadly Ngau Tau Kwok inferno in June and the Wan Chai third-alarm fire in April highlighted the vulnerability of 12,000 older buildings across the city.

In the latter incident, the owners of the five-decade old Kai Ming Building on Hennessy Road had failed to carry out annual inspections of fire equipment, while the fire hydrants coincidentally malfunctioned during the blaze.

Unstable water pressure in the building delayed operations as firefighters struggled to collect water from street hydrants.