Hong Kong mourned firemen Thomas Cheung and Samuel Hui Chi-kit last month, after the two died fighting a fire in a Ngau Tau Kok industrial building.
The conflagration took four-and-a-half days to extinguish and investigations are under way to determine what sparked the blaze in the subdivided warehouse, and whether there had been breaches in fire-safety rules.
Mini-storage facilities have mushroomed in the past decade but, as is often the case, it took a disaster and the loss of lives to shock authorities into examining regulatory measures.
Fire always poses a challenge in built-up areas. Early Chinese cities had volunteer and conscripted firefighters, and China’s first professional fire brigade was set up during the Northern Song dynasty by Emperor Renzong, who reigned from 1022 to 1063.
The soldiers selected for the fire brigade had specific duties. In the event of a fire, some maintained order and tried to salvage possessions from the burning properties, some provided first aid and others transported water to extinguish the flames.
Two centuries later, during the reign of Emperor Lizong, of the Southern Song dynasty, the fire brigade in the then capital Lin’an (modern-day Hangzhou) had grown to 5,100 men and 10 watch towers.