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LCQ10: Improving fire safety in old buildings
     Following is a question by the Hon Wu Chi-wai and a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (November 2):

     The Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap. 572), which came into operation on July 1, 2007, stipulates that the fire protection of composite and domestic buildings which were constructed on or before March 1, 1987, or the building works plans for which were first submitted for approval on or before that day, must be enhanced to meet the current requirements. The authorities will issue Fire Safety Directions (FSDs) to the owners and/or occupiers of such buildings, specifying the fire safety improvement works required for their buildings. Besides, the authorities have issued a Guidebook for the Compliance of Fire Safety Directions issued by the Fire Services Department (the Guidebook) to assist owners in complying with FSDs. It is learnt that quite a number of owners have encountered difficulties in improving the fire service facilities of their buildings, and such difficulties include fragmentation of ownerships, financial difficulties, and failure to identify suitable fire service installation contractors to carry out the works. Some owners have even indicated that it is difficult for them to comply with FSDs as they are unclear about the criteria mentioned therein. On the other hand, the authorities advised Members of this Council on many previous occasions that the authorities would, on the premise of not compromising basic fire safety, adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach in handling individual cases. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that the Government is implementing a pilot scheme under which owners of buildings of not more than three-storey with difficulties in installing fire services water tanks and pumping systems are allowed to install improvised hose reel systems on the ground floor of the buildings, in order to comply with FSDs, and that an official of the Security Bureau said at a meeting of the Panel on Security of this Council in July this year that the Government would explore the feasibility of extending the pilot scheme to six-storey buildings, of the progress of the exploration work taken up by various Government departments concerned and when such work is expected to be completed;

(2) among the FSDs issued by the Fire Services Department and the Buildings Department in each of the past three years, of the respective numbers of FSDs which, at present, (i) have been complied with, (ii) have been partially complied with, (iii) have not been complied with, and (iv) have been discharged and the reasons for that (set out in a table); and

(3) given that the Guidebook sets out an alternative arrangement that where a building (i) is of not more than six storeys or 20 metres in height and (ii) does not have adequate space or has been certified by authorised persons that its structure cannot withstand the weight of an additional water tank, the authorities will consider exempting such a building from installing a hose reel system, and the owners concerned are only required to provide portable dry powder fire extinguishers with a capacity of four kilograms in the common areas of building floors, whether the authorities will, in regard to the difficulties in complying with FSDs encountered by owners of "three-nil" buildings (i.e. buildings without Owners' Corporations, residents' organisations or property management companies), or by other owners facing financial difficulties and being unable to identify suitable fire service installation contractors to carry out the works, extend the alternative arrangement to cover the buildings concerned as an interim measure, so that owners will not be prosecuted by the authorities for the time being for their failure to fully comply with FSDs?



     The Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap. 572) (the Ordinance) came into operation on July 1, 2007. It stipulates that the fire safety protection of composite and domestic buildings which were constructed on or before March 1, 1987, or with their plans of the building works first submitted for approval on or before that day, should be enhanced to meet the current requirements. Under the Ordinance, the enforcement authority on fire safety measures in relation to planning, design and construction of buildings is the Director of Buildings, while the enforcement authority on fire service installations and equipment (FSIs) is the Director of Fire Services. The Fire Services Department (FSD) and the Buildings Department (BD) will issue "Fire Safety Directions" (Directions) to owners and/or occupiers with regard to fire safety measures of the relevant buildings and specify the required fire safety improvement works.

     My reply to the various parts of Hon Wu’s question is as follows:

(1) As far as composite buildings of three storeys or less are concerned, FSD requires owners of parts intended for non-domestic purposes (street shops and cocklofts in general) to install hose reel systems, manual fire alarm systems, fire service water tanks with an effective capacity of not less than 2 000 litres and fire service pumps.

     FSD noted that these older buildings may be subject to greater spatial or structural constraints in the installation of fire service water tanks and pumps. In the light of this, FSD and the Water Supplies Department (WSD) introduced a "Pilot Scheme on Improvised Hose Reel System" in May last year, tested out first a few three-storey buildings. The owners of these buildings were allowed to install improvised hose reel systems with direct water supply from the government town mains on the ground floor of the buildings, thus being spared the installation of fire service water tanks and pumps. This can help reduce the works costs as well as resolve the technical difficulties and ownership issues associated with the works.

     Following the completion of the works of the first participating building of the Pilot Scheme were completed, FSD and WSD evaluated the Pilot Scheme and concluded in July this year that the Scheme was effective. As a result, FSD is promoting the Improvised Hose Reel System to stakeholders, including owners of other suitable old composite buildings of three storeys or less and the FSI contractors' sector, with a view to assisting the owners to achieve early compliance with the requirements of the Directions to enhance the fire safety of their buildings.

     To assist owners of composite buildings of four to six storeys to effectively comply with the relevant requirements of the Ordinance, FSD is, in collaboration with other relevant departments, actively exploring the feasibility of various alternative proposals, taking into account the difficulties faced by owners, such as spatial constraints, technical requirements, overall works approval procedures, works costs, etc. 

(2) The number of Directions issued by FSD and BD as well as the number of Directions complied with or discharged between January 1, 2014 and September 30, 2016 are tabulated at Annex.

     Under the current mechanism, FSD and BD conduct compliance inspections on the improvement works/items as required in the Directions. If the improvement works fulfill all the requirements of the Directions, the departments will notify the owners/occupants in writing of their compliance. However, Directions with requirements partially complied with will be deemed non-compliance cases. Therefore, the departments do not have a breakdown of the number of Directions partially complied with and those totally not complied with.

     FSD and BD may, having regard to the actual circumstances, discharge the Directions issued.  Examples include changes in ownership or occupants of individual units or demolition of the buildings. Furthermore, if an owners' corporation (OC) is set up for a building after the issue of the Directions, the departments will discharge the Directions issued to individual owners earlier, and issue a Direction to the OC instead, for its co-ordination and commencement of the fire safety improvement works.

(3) Improvement of FSIs as required under the Ordinance is a basic fire protection measure, and is imperative for reducing fire risks and for the protection of life and property. For example, installation of a fire hydrant/hose reel system is crucial for fire safety of a building as it can effectively control the spread of fire in a building at the initial stage of a fire. As such, FSD considers that owners of old buildings should not be arbitrarily exempted from the requirement of installing fire hose reel systems in their buildings. Also, a fire extinguisher provides limited fire protection due to limitations of its size and quenching distance and should not be regarded as a full replacement of a fire hose reel system.

     However, if the target building is found lack of space, or an authorised person/registered structural engineer confirms that the building structure is unable to support the installation of an additional fire service water tank, FSD will consider exempting the building from the requirement of providing fire hydrants and/or hose reel systems, and will consider accepting alternative proposals such as providing manual fire alarm and fire extinguishers.

     Against the overriding principle of enhancing fire safety, FSD and BD will continue to adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach in handling individual cases. If the relevant owners need more time to prepare for and carry out the improvement works, for example, due to the time needed to form an OC, the departments will consider applications for reasonable extension of time for compliance with the Directions in the light of the justifications provided and/or the scale of works involved and so forth. Government departments concerned will assist owners of old buildings in complying with the Directions. Publicity and educational activities will also be conducted through various channels to enhance public understanding of the objective of the Ordinance and the importance of improving fire safety in old buildings.
Ends/Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Issued at HKT 18:13
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