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Ngau Tau Kok fire

Heroic Hong Kong firemen recall perilous rescue of teenage siblings trapped in burning building

The three men fought choking smoke and dwindling oxygen supplies to save the youngsters’ lives

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 12:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 October, 2016, 10:22am

Three firefighters who will be awarded top honours on Saturday for their bravery have described how they battled flames, smoke and zero visibility to rescue two trapped siblings.

The men were tackling the blaze at the Cheong Fat Industrial Building in Cheung Sha Wan when they heard shouts from one of the subdivided flats.

“I didn’t even realise my breathing apparatus was whistling. I just wanted to bring the young man down the stairs and escape. After all, saving lives is my duty,” Chow Wai-hong, 45, said.

Chow was retreating with his colleagues – senior fireman Ng Chi-hung, 49, and fireman Chan Chun-yin, 24, when they heard the cries for help.

The third-alarm fire had started at 11.31pm in an eighth-floor flat of the Cheong Fat Factory Building on July 7. The flat, measuring 15 by 20 metres, was subdivided with wooden planks and was used for storage.

Two teenagers – Pang Ka-man,14, and Pang Suen-ming, 16, were trapped in a flat opposite.

The trio from Cheung Sha Wan fire station were the first to be sent into the building. Though the entire floor was engulfed by smoke and they could see nothing, they had managed to locate the siblings by tracing their sounds. It was then 11.52pm and they called for reinforcements.

“We could not leave them behind even though we were withdrawing and would soon run out of oxygen,” Chow said.

He and Ng decided to carry out the siblings although it would further drain their oxygen. They also had to attend Chan on the seventh floor as his oxygen ran out.

“I was anxious as I was inhaling smoke. I felt like I was falling asleep,” Chan, who is still on probation until the middle of next year, recalled. “I keep reminding myself not to sleep. Otherwise that is it.” Chan was helped out by two other colleagues from his station.

Ng carried Ka-man two floors down and passed her to two colleagues from Lai Chi Kwok station. But when he ran out of oxygen on the third floor he had to think quickly to save himself.

“I slid down the stairs by using the back rack of the breathing apparatus. I had to believe in myself that I could make it,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Chow, who is 68kg, had carried the semi-unconcious Suen-ming, weighing more than 90kg, down to the fifth floor when he realised he too was out of oxygen and felt unwell.

“I kept waking the boy up and telling him we had to get out,” Chow said.

Luckily senior station officer Patrick Ho Dik-hei reached them in time and got them out.

After taking a short break, the trio twice went back inside the burning building before calling it a day.

The three lifesavers will receive a Bronze Medal for Bravery at Government House in recognition of their gallantry, while Ho and the two firemen from Lai Chi Kok will receive the Chief Executive’s Commendation for exemplary courage.

Chan is the first probationary fireman to be awarded such an honour in a decade.

The fire came two weeks after the deadly inferno at a mini-storage facility in Ngau Tau Kok that killed senior station officer Thomas Cheung and senior fireman Samuel Hui Chi-kit.

Ng admitted that the earlier fire played on his mind and added to the pressure as all three had battled the Ngau Tau Kok fire.

“When my breathing apparatus whistled, there was a flash when I wondered if I would follow the path of the two fallen colleagues,” Ng said.

The trio said the medals belonged to everyone, as team work made the rescue possible.

“We would not have finished the duty if our fellows didn’t come and help us in time. We work as a team,” Ng continued.

The Fire Services Department sent 24 fire engines and deployed about 120 fire and ambulance personnel to battle the blaze.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will honour 29 firefighters for their bravery in battling the two fires.

Cheung and Hui were posthumously awarded the Gold Medal for Bravery, the city’s highest honour.