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Ngau Tau Kok fire

Ignore online rumours and get behind our firefighters, Hong Kong public urged

Frontline officers blast ‘inaccurate’ media reports, while some attack the tactics used by commanders to tackle Ngau Tau Kok inferno

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 June, 2016, 10:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 June, 2016, 10:48pm

Top Hong Kong officials and unionists on Friday urged the public to support the city’s firefighters, saying hearsay and criticism of the strategies used in tackling an industrial building inferno had piled pressure on frontline officers.

While firefighters’ unions said the morale of the force was high, some frontline officers posed angry messages online questioning the decisions of their commanders and blasting “inaccurate” media reports.

Hundreds of firefighters have been taking turns to battle the blaze at the Amoycan Industrial Centre in Ngau Tau Kok since it started on Tuesday. It is understood that some have suffered emotional breakdowns and the police force has sent its psychological services group to conduct consultations with those affected.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok appealed for public support for the firefighters, noting there were voices that had questioned the strategies and commands used in the operation.

“All firefighters have gone through professional training and are equipped with professional knowledge and skills. They would know what the best strategies are to combat the blaze,” Lai said.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made the same appeal and said: “The situation of the fire is very complex ... I truly recognise the work of fire services and hope the public continuously support and cooperate with them.”

A 1,000-word article penned by a “chief fireman” circulating on WhatsApp slammed some media outlets that attributed the death of two firemen to firefighting tactics and which described the tragedies as an “unnecessary sacrifice”.

“If we do not take the ‘core clearance’ approach [to enter the block and put out the blaze], the fire and heat would affect the few residential blocks nearby,” it read.

He said firemen would not give up at critical moments and would battle on, just like the doctors, nurses and the police during the Sars outbreak of 2003 and Mong Kok riot earlier this year.

“But the media reports today are not just unjust, they twisted facts as if firemen were unable to extinguish the fire.”

A four-minute clip consisting of 11 short voice messages purportedly from firefighters circulating online blamed the top management’s “ignorance” about the actual situation at the scene for the two deaths.

One message claimed that under external pressure, senior firemen gave up the safer approach of fighting the blaze from the outside. “Buildings [Department] told them the building could collapse, so they sent some dare-to-die corps up there, and the accident happened.”

On Thursday Leung denied speculation that the government had exerted undue pressure on firefighers to put out the blaze as quickly as possible at all costs.

An executive committee member of the Fire Services Officers Association, Mak Kam-fai, said he understood the feelings and emotions of junior staff, but their morale was high.

“In real life it is not practical for the seniors to explain tactics to them fully,” Mak said.

Mak also said the frontline firefighters faced huge pressure from the challenge of dealing with the deadly blaze in complex circumstances, and from also the public.

“All the guessing, hearsay and rumours upset us and put pressure on us,” he said. “It is irresponsible for people and so-called experts to spread negative remarks and criticism, as they have absolutely no idea what the fire situation is like.”

He said the firefighters were doing their best to put out the fire as quickly as possible. Some frontline colleagues who were supposed to be off after a full day there had also volunteered to return and do back-up work.

Mak expressed sadness at the two fallen officers but said the public should not confuse their deaths with the firefighting strategy.

Some members of the public have criticised fire service management for sending officers inside the burning building even though no one was trapped.

“So we should just let the fire burn?” he asked, adding that firefighters had to enter the core area to put out the blaze regardless of whether there were people inside or not.

Jerry Nip Yuen-fung, chairman of the Fire Services Department Staff General Association, said firefighters were angry at rumours that some of them were sent in when they were not ready.

“They have worked very hard in fighting the fire. Such groundless rumours should not be spread around,” he said.

Additional reporting by Phila Siu