Life is hectic for Cheung Chun-ngai and his colleagues, who are always putting out fires - literally. But next Sunday, Cheung and nine other firemen will have a change of pace as they bid to win the Disciplined Forces Cup in the 10-kilometre event at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, and prove they are the strongest and sturdiest among this elite group.
"We want to be able to say we are the best. And we have been the best for the last five years. Now it is time to make it number six," said Cheung as he geared up yesterday at Victoria Park, one of thousands of runners who collected their gear for the event.
Bragging rights are the only thing at stake in the Disciplined Services Cup, which will be contested by seven branches of the government. They are Cheung's team from the Fire Services Department, the Police, the Correctional Services Department, the Customs, the ICAC and the Government's Flying Services.
Last weekend Cheung, 26, who is stationed at Yuen Long, was called to put out a No 2 alarm at Tin Shui Wai. Next week he will set his alarm for an early wake-up call to join his mates at the 10km start line near North Point.
"Each team will be made up of 10 people. The eight fastest times are taken into account and the lowest aggregate will be the winner. We hope we can do it again but we will have to watch out for the Police, who we beat the last two years," Cheung said.
His friend, Chung Tak-lun, adds: "We all want to win badly. There are no other incentives other than the satisfaction of being the best among the disciplined forces."
But win or lose, Chung, 33, says he will take it in his stride for, after all, this is just a sport. He puts things into perspective when he says he faces more important issues daily - like life and death. In 2005, Chung was called up for a No 5 alarm - the most dangerous - at Tai O where an entire squatter area was being gutted. It took 10 hours to put out the fire and Chung was in the front line.
"Our lives are dangerous. We face on average 10 calls a week, some of them are prank calls some real and serious. So we are always in a rush because it can be the difference between saving or losing lives," Cheung said.
The 9,000-strong Fire Services Department will be cheering on Cheung and company next Sunday. More than 100 firemen took part in trials to represent the department.
"Each of us expects to finish the 10-kilometre race in around 36 minutes. If we do that, I think we can win again," Cheung said.
Wong Ka-wai, another fireman, wishes them well. He is not part of the team but will be running in the marathon. With a personal best of two hours and 39 minutes, Wong is hoping to better his record as the fifth-best local runner. "We will be cheering him on. The marathon is too much for me. I will stick to the 10km event," Cheung grins.
And putting out fires.