My Take

Shame it takes a tragedy to realise our sense of community

The sacrifice made by the two firemen who died battling the Ngau Tau Kok blaze was recognised by all; too bad this sense of togetherness is all too brief

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 June, 2016, 11:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 12:38am

One of my first jobs as a reporter was to cover a third-alarm fire in North Point. Dozens of residents were being rushed out in a panic while fierce flames were shooting out of windows and doors. Several teams of firemen in gas masks moved in. The blaze was under control shortly thereafter. No one was seriously hurt.

It wasn’t big news but it was an eye-opening experience for me. We always knew firefighters were brave but it’s something else to see them in action. We hacks in journalism schools like to glorify our lowly trade by telling impressionable young minds how reporters are always rushing into danger, going in the opposite direction from people who are fleeing.

A day of remembrance and tribute for Hong Kong firefighter killed in blaze

In my own experience, that’s rarely the case. It’s only firefighters who do that, routinely, and sometimes do so by making the ultimate sacrifice, like Samuel Hui Chi-kit and Thomas Cheung, the two brave firefighters who lost their lives battling the Ngau Tau Kok blaze.

It’s interesting to observe the overwhelming community reaction, though. Those two men were not the first, and will not be the last, firemen to die in the line of duty. Yet, our collective public grief is quite unprecedented.

Firefighters, like soldiers, know the dangers they face the day they sign up for their job. A thousand things can go wrong when you enter a site engulfed in flames. So it’s disturbing to see politicians who took selfies at the fire site, and armchair pundits who second-guessed commanding officers and called for their heads.

Public invited to funeral for second Hong Kong firefighter to die in Ngau Tau Kok blaze

And it seems that our highly fractured community can now only come together in times of grief and tragedy like this; and in the aftermaths of the Manila hostage killings and the fatal Lamma Island ferry collision.

Those tragedies and losses give us brief moments when we can stop fighting each other, and feel compassion, sadness and a sense of togetherness.

We are just too used to seeing government officials who evade responsibility and accountability; sanctimonious politicians with hidden agendas; ignorant activists blinded by their own ideology and rhetoric; and well-connected people who sacrifice the public good for private gain.

Even the cynics among us are awed by the simple courage of those two men – and all those other brave firefighters – who were just doing their job.