More than 10 prison officers formed a wall to separate rioting Hong Kong and Vietnamese inmates but were unable to keep them apart, a union leader said yesterday. A supervisory officer, whose tendons in both arms were damaged, was among them, said Stephen Wong Wai-hung, Correctional Services Officers' Association chairman. 'The supervisor told me correctional officers attempted to keep Vietnamese inmates away from local inmates. But the move was misunderstood by local inmates who thought officers intended to protect the Vietnamese. When inmates' emotions were running high, officers used their bodies to form a wall to separate them, but in vain,' Mr Wong said. He said the officer told him his colleagues feared for their lives, realising the limited number of officers could not deal with the hundreds of inmates. A fireman surnamed Cheung called Commercial Radio's Teacup in a Storm phone-in programme yesterday complaining he and his colleagues, mistaken by inmates for correctional services officers, were attacked as they tried to put out a fire. He complained that he, two ambulancemen and six firemen were not protected in the operation. 'I am not sure whether the administrators were aware of the danger out there when they deployed us. We were taken there by helicopter and Correctional Services Department vehicles. We were told there were a number of casualties and a fire. 'We need to save lives. But when we got there, we saw many inmates using weapons to attack us. We had to withdraw from the scene. My mind was blank. I thought I was going to be killed. 'When we reached another part of the camp, the gatekeeper refused to open the gate and said they needed to clear it with senior administrators, even though we told him we were being attacked by inmates.' A Fire Services spokesman said the department was concerned about the allegation that firefighters were not properly protected, adding that it would seek an explanation. 'Whenever we have an operation, officers' personal safety is our first priority,' he said. 'We will look into the case.' A Correctional Services Department officer told the same radio programme he had worked in the department for about 20 years and was unhappy with the Government's cost-cutting plans, which had undermined morale. He said gambling for cigarettes was common in the camps and they did not have enough staff to control the problem. A total of 61 department posts have been axed this year to save $26 million in recurrent spending. Legco security panel vice-chairman Selina Chow Liang Suk-yee was satisfied sufficient manpower was deployed to control the riot, but said: 'Last night, I became increasingly concerned as the riot had lasted too long . . . I questioned why we could not control the situation at an earlier stage. 'Whether there was problem in activating the alarm, I think the procedure needs to be reviewed.'