Ngau Tau Kok fire

Fire safety authorities plan tougher regulations on storage units following Ngau Tau Kok fire

Fire department reveals plans to bring in stricter measures after last year’s killer blaze in Ngau Tau Kok, as well as a specialist mountain rescue team

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 10:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 7:22pm

The city’s fire safety authorities plan to introduce stricter regulations for mini-storage outlets, following an inferno that claimed the lives of two firemen last June.

Revealing the plan yesterday, the Fire Services Department chief Daryl Li Kin-yat said he hoped the bill would be tabled in the Legislative Council by April and implemented by the end of the year.

Li told the Post the proposed measures could help the authority understand the number of mini-storage facilities operating in the city and bound the operators to ensure customers’ safety.

“We are now relying on the existing ordinance to ensure the safety of the mini-storage facilities ... we can ask the operators to implement some management measures,” Li said.

“There should be some form of control regarding what items can be stored in the storage units. The licensing regime is only a way forward.”

Li stressed it was a preliminary consideration and a working group headed by the Security Bureau was studying ways to improve safety and operations of the industry.

The storage industry welcomed the proposed measures and said it could restore customers’ confidence.

In response to the fatal, fourth-alarm fire in Ngau Tau Kok last year, the department called for operators to comply with stringent regulations, including keeping a 2.4-metre gap between storage zones and keeping windows open, in a bid to prevent the quick spread of fire and obstruction of rescue operations.

As of December 31, the authority had made a list of 885 mini-storage facilities across the city and issued 1,380 fire hazard notices to 275 operators.

Another senior security source said the licensing regime was necessary as the existing ordinance could not fully resolve all fire risks found in these cubicles.

“In one extreme case, the storage outlet was situated in the centre on a floor of an industrial building, sealed by four walls without any windows. The operator could not really solve the window problem,” the source said.

The licence could also require operators to monitor the unit around the clock to ensure no dangerous goods were stored.

“Operators might bear legal consequences if any prohibited items were found,” the source said.

Alexander Chung, the managing director of Hong Kong Storage, said he hoped the government could roll out a comprehensive licensing mechanism as the existing rules were difficult to meet due to limited floor space.

“Requirements such as keeping a 2.4-metre gap between zones are unrealistic for us to carry out and we would only transfer the cost to customers,” said Chung. “The licencing and the proposed management measures could ensure the customers’ safety.”

Meanwhile, the department also unveiled its plans to create a new Mountain Rescue Support Team. Six firefighters who received 10 weeks’ training in Switzerland last April will be stationed in different fire stations to train up a team of about 162 members in the coming months. They will also benefit from a lot of new gear, including a drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera that will boost search ability during night operations.

The rescue team comes as a response to the fire service being caught off-guard during rescue operations on the city’s coldest day in six decades last January.