LCQ7: Handling of fire hazard complaints

     Following is a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, to a question by the Hon Chan Kam-lam in the Legislative Council today (July 17):


     Recently, a newspaper has reported that, upon receipt of an email complaining about problems in the fire service equipment in the building where the office of that newspaper is situated, the Fire Services Department (FSD) had deployed officers to inspect the premises, without first contacting the complainant to gather more information. As a result, the normal operation of that media organisation was affected, but the complaint was later confirmed to be a false report. Regarding FSD's handling of complaints and reports, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of complaints or reports received by FSD in each of the past three years; the current procedure of FSD for handling complaints and reports, and whether verification of the identities of the complainants and informants as well as the relevant matters are included in such procedure; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) of the number of complaints or reports received by FSD through emails in each of the past three years, as well as the fire safety problems and types of buildings mainly involved in such complaints and reports; how FSD verified the contents of such complaints and reports;

(c) of the number of inspections carried out in each of the past three years by FSD arising from the complaints or reports received, the effectiveness of such inspections and, among such inspections, the number of prosecutions instituted;

(d) of the specific procedures followed by FSD from receipt of a complaint to the making of a decision to conduct an inspection; whether FSD will notify the occupier of the relevant premises before deploying officers to inspect such premises, and whether FSD will conduct such an inspection without affecting the occupier; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(e) whether FSD has put in place a mechanism for penalising those people who make false reports or abuse the complaint mechanism; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     With the mission of "serving to save", the Fire Services Department (FSD) protects the lives and properties of the public from fire or other calamities.  To this end, FSD gives advice on fire protection measures and fire hazards to the public, building owners and occupiers of premises, etc, and educates the public to raise fire safety awareness. It also inspects the means of escapes and fire service installations and equipment (FSIs), etc in buildings and premises. With the efforts of FSD and the cooperation of the public, the number of fires in Hong Kong in the past five years decreased by about 25 per cent from around 8 200 in 2008 to some 6 100 in 2012. The number of fires at Alarm No.3 or above has decreased by about 28 per cent, from 18 in 2008 to 13 in 2012.

     One of the major duties of FSD is to abate fire hazards, which includes taking follow-up actions upon receipt of complaints of fire hazards in order to minimise the risk of fire and ensure the safety of lives and properties of the public.

     The Administration's reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) to (d) In the past three years (i.e. from 2010 to 2012), FSD received 9 971, 11 746 and 10 922 cases of complaint about fire hazards respectively. Among them, 1 311, 1 331 and 1 832 cases were related to problems of FSIs in various types of buildings (including composite, domestic, commercial and industrial buildings, etc.). Other complaints or reports include obstructions to means of escape of the buildings, locked exits of the buildings and excessive storage of dangerous goods, etc. Those complaints were usually made through letter, telephone or email. The department does not maintain statistics of complaints made through email.

     The statistics of inspections and enforcement actions taken by FSD regarding FSIs in the past three years are listed in the Annex.

     Regarding the inspections and enforcement actions mentioned above, some were made in response to complaints about fire hazards, some were made in relation to problems of installations and equipment indicated in the Certificate of FSIs, whereas some were made in respect of matters relating to licence applications, etc. The department does not maintain statistics specifically on the number of inspections and prosecutions instituted arising from complaints.

     In general, the Licensing and Certification Command of FSD is responsible for follow-up actions and inspections regarding fire hazard complaints about FSIs. FSD will handle these complaints in accordance with the established mechanism. If the information provided by the complainant contains specific matter and address for following up, an investigation will be conducted to ensure fire safety of the concerned building or premises regardless of whether the complaint is anonymous or not. If the information provided by the complainant is insufficient or unclear (e.g. detailed address is not given or the content of the fire hazard complaint is unclear), FSD will first approach the complainant through the means of contact provided in order to obtain more details before arranging an inspection. In case FSD is unable to contact the complainant or obtain specific information from the complainant, the department will regard the complaint as a case that cannot be pursued and thus cease the investigation.

     Generally speaking, lack of maintenance of FSIs or problems of FSIs is classified as a fire hazard complaint not posing imminent danger.  In accordance with the FSD's performance pledge, an investigation will be conducted within 10 working days upon receipt of such a complaint.

     When handling complaints about fire hazards, the prime consideration of FSD is protection of lives and properties of the public.  In accordance with the established practice, the department will deploy fire services officers to conduct an on-site inspection.  In light of judicial justice, the fire services officers will not inform the persons being complained before conducting the inspection.  In the course of investigation, if the responsible person of the premises is unable to make suitable arrangement for the inspection (e.g. the premises have been locked and the key has to be obtained from other sources, etc.), the department would, in light of the circumstances of individual cases (e.g. the degree of urgency and seriousness of the related fire hazards), exercise its discretion (e.g. to conduct an inspection again after the key of the premises has been obtained).

(e) Upon receipt of a complaint about fire hazards, FSD will handle it in accordance with the above established mechanism.  Generally speaking, FSD can hardly ascertain the motives of the complainant, and whether the complaint was made out of his/her concern about fire safety, misunderstanding or malicious intent.  However, in case FSD has reasonable doubt that the complaint is of malicious intent, e.g. the same address was involved in a number of continual false complaints, the investigation of which might waste the time of public officers, then FSD would refer the case to the Police for follow-up actions.

Ends/Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Issued at HKT 14:31