The failure of a Fire Services Department alert system at the height of a factory blaze that took the life of a senior firefighter beggars belief. There are few jobs as dangerous in our skyscraper-packed, densely populated city. Every aspect of preventing and putting out fires has to be of the highest possible standard. No effort can be spared to ensure it doesn't happen again. A text message sent by a frontline commander on a mobile data terminal, requesting that a fire on the fifth floor of the factory building in Cheung Sha Wan on March 8 be upgraded, apparently went unnoticed by a communications officer. An investigation will determine how the officer came to delete it less than a minute later, resulting in an 18-minute delay in getting reinforcements to the blaze. The firefighter who died was one of eight sent into the blaze with breathing equipment 35 minutes after the fire was finally upgraded and reinforcements ordered. An inquest may shed light on whether the delay was a factor in the spread of the fire and the tragic loss of senior fireman Yeung Chun-kit. Meanwhile, the Fire Services Department is to ask the communications system contractor to install audio and video alarms to alert operators to a message upgrading a fire. Senior frontline officers, however, still prefer to rely on walkie-talkies for important operational calls. In fact, this was how an officer inquired about the delay in reinforcements and alerted headquarters to the error. If they had been used in the first place, the delay would not have occurred. The department has taken interim measures to prevent a repeat, pending the outcome of an internal inquiry. There is no question that computerised communications have a role in modern firefighting. But it is a worry that there are two systems in operational use. The inquiry needs to clarify this situation and take into account the views of senior officers and their staff association on the system that best serves the interests of the public and firefighters. Government inspections begin on Monday of 2,000 industrial buildings; the one in which the fire took place is among 650 built before 1973 that mostly lack sprinkler systems. That problem must also be tackled. Inquiries after the fact are cold comfort for Yeung's family. Their findings do little to improve dented morale, confidence in a system that has presumably been well tried and tested and hopes that a blaze that breaks out in the buildings we live and work in will be swiftly extinguished. But they are vital if lessons are to be learned. No two emergencies are exactly the same, and mistakes can happen. In a crowded city such as ours, though, every effort must be made to protect lives and property from fire. Firefighters require courage and fortitude to do such work. But these attributes alone will not bring fires under control and put them out. Incident command systems, pre-planned strategies, manpower and equipment are key factors in tackling blazes. Success can't be guaranteed unless each is of the highest order. A breakdown of the first of these was at fault in the factory fire. While the department says preventative action has already been taken, it is clear that this is just one part of a system that needs to be constantly reviewed and updated. Our buildings must have the best fire safety and prevention mechanisms, and firefighters the best equipment and training. The investigations of the mistake need to be thorough, far-reaching and proactive.