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Ngau Tau Kok fire

Urgent need for regulation to govern the use of storage facilities in industrial buildings

Death of two fireman battling blaze in Ngau Tau Kok has spurred officials into talk of action; this time, let’s hope they follow through

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 June, 2016, 12:10am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 June, 2016, 12:43am

A deep sense of shock and grief is still weighing heavily as we reflect on the fatal blaze that last night was still sweeping through a storage facility at an industrial building in Ngau Tau Kok. Such facilities are increasingly being used by households in need of extra space to store their belongings. The fire has not only caused severe damage to the belongings, many of which are uninsured and have personal value to the owners, it also claimed the lives of two firefighters – 30-year-old Thomas Cheung, who is survived by his wife and four-month-old child, and 37-year-old Hui Chi-kit, who died last night, leaving behind a wife and seven-year-old son.

 

Second firefighter dies in Ngau Tau Kok blaze as precautionary evacuation measures put in place

 

Their heroic sacrifice will be remembered by the public. Our tribute also goes to their colleagues, who were still battling the blaze yesterday; two other firefighters were rushed to hospital last night and are in serious condition.

The fourth-alarm fire is one of the longest-running in the city’s history. Cheung and another colleague were the only team despatched to the scene after the blaze had initially come under control on Tuesday evening. But the situation worsened again and Cheung went missing. He was later found unconscious on the third floor and was rushed to hospital. Questions have been raised whether the operation involved wrong decisions and misuse of equipment. Valid as they are, the queries can only be answered by a full investigation.

The accident also highlights the lack of regulations to govern these popular mini-warehouses. While they provide a handy solution to those in need of storage space, many are cramped inside industrial blocks without sprinkler installations. Adding to the risk is the lack of control over what is stored inside these cubicles, which are padlocked by users inside a labyrinth-like environment.

 

Playing with fire: deadly failings of Hong Kong’s booming storage trade

 

In 2010, the government pledged to consider tightening fire safety rules in old industrial buildings after an intense blaze in Cheung Sha Wan killed a fireman. Six years have passed but no action has been taken. Meanwhile, the potential hazards in these old buildings increase as mini-storage and other new businesses mushroom under the government’s policy to make better use of underutilised industrial blocks across the city. That it has taken another fatality to prompt action is regrettable. Belated as they are, the follow-up actions announced by the security chief, including a citywide inspection of such facilities, are necessary steps. Like unauthorised subdivided flats, these partitioned storage units can become death traps when things go wrong. The need for better regulation and monitoring is evident.