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LC Urgent Q2: Fire safety improvement measures of hawker stalls

     Following is a question by the Hon James To Kun-sun under Rule 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Ambrose S K Lee, in the Legislative Council today (December 7):



     On the 30th of last month, a Number 4 alarm fire broke out at Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok, in which the hawker stalls along the street caught fire first and it then spread to nearby old buildings, resulting in heavy casualties and substantial property losses.  In this connection, will the Government inform the Council :

(a) of the causes of the fire and the rapid spread of the fire, and the reasons why it has resulted in so many deaths and injuries, so as to immediately remind residents living in a similar condition to raise their awareness, and of how to prevent fire and avoid loss of lives and injuries in case of fire;

(b) of the number of similar situations in Hong Kong in which hawker stalls are set up in the vicinity of residential buildings; whether the authorities will immediately inspect similar hawker stalls and the buildings nearby, so as to assess whether these buildings can endure the risks in case of fire, including whether such type of living condition and such buildings are in compliance with the requirements of the Fire Services Ordinance, whether these is adequate fire service equipment, whether there are unauthorised building works or flat units divided into separate units (commonly known as "sub-divided units") inside those buildings, whether the fire escapes are free of obstruction, and whether the residents are sufficiently aware of fire prevention, etc., as well as what immediate measures the authorities will take to prevent the recurrence of similar tragedies; and

(c) whether the authorities will immediately liaise with the Hong Kong Housing Society and the Urban Renewal Authority to target at those old buildings which have similar living conditions in various districts and immediately and proactively provide technical and financial support to them, so as to raise the awareness of fire safety of the flat owners and help them improve the fire protection and fire service equipment in their buildings?

Reply :


(a) and (b) The Fire Services Department (FSD) and the Police are still investigating into the causes of the No. 4 alarm fire in Fa Yuen Street, and the findings of the investigation are still being awaited.  Subject to the findings of departments' investigation and the final report, it is estimated that the piling up of stocks at the hawker stalls along the roadside and the many inflammable substances in the stocks might have led to the rapid escalation and spread of fire.  However, I wish to emphasise that the actual causes of the fire and the circumstances leading to the spread of fire can only be confirmed when the investigation is completed.

     Since the fire at the hawker stalls in Fa Yuen Street in December last year, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), in conjunction with FSD, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department and the hawker associations concerned, has implemented fire safety improvement measures, which include ensuring sufficient space in the carriageway for fire appliances and firemen; allowing sufficient space between hawker stalls to facilitate evacuation of residents of buildings in the vicinity; providing proper separation space between un-linked hawker stalls so as to prevent the spread of fire; erecting stalls with fire-resisting materials; and requiring hawker stalls to obtain independent electricity supply from legal sources, etc.  

     According to the information provided by the FEHD, there are about 40 locations in the territory where hawker stalls are found adjacent to composite/ residential buildings.  The FEHD and FSD have inspected these locations on December 1 and 2 for potential fire hazard, and FEHD has taken enforcement action against hawkers who contravened relevant regulations.  In light of this recent fire incident, the FEHD, FSD and the departments concerned are proactively reviewing safety measures formulated at the end of last year, and studying how to further improve the fire safety of hawker stalls and nearby composite/residential buildings.  The results will be announced as soon as practicable.

     Most of the buildings in the vicinity of Fa Yuen Street are composite buildings or residential buildings completed in or before 1987.  They are regulated by the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap 572).  The FSD and Buildings Department (BD) have been inspecting the composite buildings with higher fire risks under a programmed approach to enhance their fire safety standard and fire safety construction measures.  If obstructions to means of escape or potential fire hazards caused by structural problems are identified during inspections, or if problems are found in the fire service installations (FSIs) and equipment, the department(s) concerned would take enforcement action.  If there were articles causing obstructions to means of escape which would lead to imminent and serious fire hazard, FSD could make arrangement to remove those articles.
     Six old composite buildings near the hawker stalls were involved in the recent serious fire incident in Fa Yuen Street.  Five of them have already been inspected by the FSD and BD.  Fire Safety Directions requiring the enhancement of fire safety measures were issued to them respectively between August 2008 and November 2011.  Among these five buildings, the deadline for compliance of the Fire Safety Direction of one building is yet to expire.  The other four have either applied for or have been granted approval for extension of deadlines.  The main reason for extension is that the owners need more time to prepare for and carry out the works required.

     Currently, the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance does not regulate or require provision of fire service equipment within private domestic units.  Therefore, there are no statutory requirements on provision of fire service equipment for so-called "sub-divided units" inside private domestic units.  Given the lower fire load and fire risks of strictly residential buildings and general domestic units, the code of practice issued by the FSD only requires the provision of essential FSIs and equipment in common areas of these buildings, such as fire hydrants and hose reel systems, and adequate unobstructed escape routes.  

     As regards building safety, the BD has since April 2011 launched a Large Scale Operation against sub-divided flats, under which the BD will inspect the sub-divided flats in 150 buildings each year and carry out enforcement action against those in contravention of the law.  The Secretary for Development announced on December 2 that the BD would adjust its enforcement strategy against sub-divided flats by adopting a risk-based approach in selecting old non-single staircase buildings which were located in the proximity of hawker stalls for inspection.  The Secretary for Development will explain in details the operation of the BD when providing her reply to another urgent question later.

     The FSD has been conducting publicity activities to enhance public awareness of fire prevention.  A television programme of the FSD on fire safety was broadcast in November this year, with an emphasis on educating the public on the correct way of escape in case of a fire.  Leaflets on fire safety have also been distributed to resident's organisations to remind them to stay vigilant.  For example, residents should ensure that all means of escape are free from obstruction, they should not store large amount of goods at home or near their residence, they should ensure that the FSIs in the building are operating normally and they should install FSIs in accordance with the Fire Safety Direction as early as possible, etc.  If potential fire hazards are identified, the occupiers should also notify the local fire station as soon as possible for their follow up.  

     In addition, FSD has been arranging the Special Enforcement Unit to inspect old buildings with higher fire risks to ensure their fire safety.  The FSD launched a special inspection operation in districts with a high density of old buildings in last November.  More than 200 buildings were inspected during the exercise and 47 prosecutions were taken against irregularities such as obstruction to means of escape.  Cases involving structural problems were referred to the BD.

(c) The Government and its partner organisations, i.e. the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) and the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), have a number of technical and financial assistance schemes providing assistance to owners on matters related to building and fire safety.  These include the Comprehensive Building Safety Improvement Loan Scheme and the Building Maintenance Grant Scheme for Elderly Owners funded by the Government, and the Integrated Building Maintenance Assistance Scheme jointly administered by the HKHS and URA.  The scope of works covered by these assistance schemes include those related to fire safety constructions and fire safety installations and equipment.  In addition, if owners encounter any technical difficulties when arranging for the works, they could seek assistance from the HKHS and URA apart from approaching the relevant government departments or consulting the professionals.

     Furthermore, to encourage owners to improve the fire safety of their buildings and to facilitate them to receive proper assistance under the various schemes, the FSD and BD will provide information of the above assistance schemes when taking enforcement action against fire safety issues.

Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Issued at HKT 16:42


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