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LCQ1: Government keeps close watch on FSD's needs in manpower, equipment and welfare
     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr John Lee, in the Legislative Council today (October 25):

     There are comments that as the workload of the staff of the Fire Services Department (FSD) has become increasingly heavy and rescue work cannot afford any delay, the authorities should review afresh the facilities, staffing establishment and grade structure of FSD.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether each fire station is currently equipped with hydraulic platforms, major pumps and light rescue units; if not, of the improvement measures put in place by FSD;
(2) given that FSD officers of various ranks (including fire personnel, ambulance personnel and staff in the control stream at the Fire Services Communications Centre) are all required to undergo various in-service training regularly, but no manpower has been set aside under the current staffing establishment of FSD for relieving staff undergoing training, which makes it necessary for the duties originally performed by the staff undergoing training to be shared out by other staff, thereby aggravating the problem of manpower shortage, whether the authorities will expand the staffing establishment of FSD so as to provide manpower for relieving staff undergoing training; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) as it has been almost a decade since the last comprehensive review of the grade structure of Disciplined Services (including FSD) was conducted by the Government in 2008, the entry requirements on academic qualifications for FSD officers of various ranks have been raised over the past decade, the workload for them has become increasingly heavy and the pressure and difficulties encountered by them when discharging duties have been increasing, whether the Government will expeditiously conduct afresh a comprehensive review on the grade structure of FSD, and put forward recommendations for improvements in the light of the review outcome; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?


     The Fire Services Department (FSD) has always been committed to serving the community and protecting the people of Hong Kong from fire and other calamities.  Its work in providing efficient and professional firefighting, rescue and ambulance services to the public has been well recognised.  The Government fully appreciates the challenges FSD staff encountered at work.  We will keep a close watch on FSD's needs in such areas as manpower, equipment and welfare, and seek improvement having regard to the actual circumstances, so as to enable the Department to cope with the ever-changing challenges in fire and ambulance services.

     My reply to the different parts of the question raised by the Dr Hon Quat is as follows:
(1) FSD will evaluate the fire risks of individual areas having regard to their characteristics and potential risks, living density, intensity of land development, land use, building height and so on.  Based on the fire risks, the territory is divided into five categories, which form the basis for determining the types of emergency vehicles, logistics support appliances and manpower required, as well as the type of fire stations needed in each area.

     When the Fire Services Communications Centre receives a call for firefighting or rescue services, it will flexibly deploy resources with regard to the location and nature of the incident, and dispatch the nearest fire appliances and ambulances to the scene to handle the incident as quickly as possible.  It is therefore not necessary for each fire station to be equipped with hydraulic platforms, major pumps and light rescue units at the same time.
(2) The Government has always attached great importance to the provision of professional training to FSD staff.  Apart from offering foundation training to new recruits, FSD provides continuing in-service training to serving staff to cope with the fast-changing social development and the corresponding fire risks.  

     While on duty, frontline fire and ambulance personnel will receive regular training arranged by their units.  During training, frontline staff are on standby and are always ready to be deployed for responding to any emergency call forthwith.  Upon completion of the firefighting or rescue operations, the training will resume.  The above-mentioned regular training is part of the daily routine of the frontline staff and does not involve additional manpower. 

     Moreover, the Government has in recent years allocated additional resources to FSD for providing more diversified training to frontline staff on the premise that operational efficiency is not affected.  With the benefit of new resources, FSD will establish a Tactical Support Unit (TSU) within this year.  The TSU, comprising 60 fire personnel and two staff of the Mobilising and Communications Group (MCG), will receive training at the Fire and Ambulance Services Academy.  During training, the TSU can provide support to areas where there are major or prolonged firefighting or rescue operations.  The TSU will also take part in interdepartmental drills and exercises, with a view to strengthening the training of fire personnel and further enhancing operational efficiency.  The TSU takes members from different fire stations on rotation every fortnight and serves both training and support purposes.  This arrangement facilitates rotational training and alternate participation by members.

     Furthermore, in order to enhance training resources for ambulance services, additional resources were allocated to FSD for setting up the Special Support Unit (SSU) in 2014.  Frontline ambulance personnel will take turns to join the SSU to receive training on handling incidents that involve multiple casualties, take part in related drills and exercises and provide operational support.  The establishment of the SSU has doubled from 24 at the start to 48 at present, such that more ambulance personnel can receive the relevant training, thus enhancing the quality of emergency ambulance services.  The operational pattern of the SSU is similar to that of the TSU for fire personnel.

     FSD will continue to review the existing professional training courses from time to time and explore various training plans, with a view to enhancing the skills and knowledge of FSD staff without affecting operational efficiency. 

(3) We fully understand that FSD staff often perform duties in extremely arduous and dangerous environments, and that their workload is becoming heavier with the development of the society.  We are also aware of FSD staff’s demand for a grade structure review.
     The Government fully recognises FSD staff's exemplary performance and contribution in providing firefighting, rescue and ambulance services, and has been taking measures on various fronts to alleviate the difficulties and stress they may face at work.

     With regard to manpower, we have been actively seeking to provide additional manpower for FSD under the established mechanism.  In 2017-18, for example, FSD has a net increase of 331 posts, representing a 3.2 per cent increase of the overall establishment of FSD, higher than the 2 per cent  increase of the overall civil service establishment.  As for equipment and resources, the Government allocates funding every year to provide the best equipment, vehicles, vessels, operational tools and protective clothing for FSD staff to ensure their safety and efficiency while performing duties.  In mid-2017, this Council approved a provision of $1.7 billion for FSD to develop the Fourth Generation Mobilising System, which will enable faster and more efficient mobilisation of resources for fire, ambulance and MCG personnel.

     As far as staff benefits are concerned, in the past few years, the Government has introduced and improved various allowances for FSD staff, including the Special Allowance for Specialist Duties payable to specialised teams on high angle rescue, hazardous materials, etc., Diving Allowance as well as Paramedic Supervisor Allowance, to recognise the special skills possessed by staff of the various specialised teams.  The Government is also actively taking forward the plan to build disciplined services quarters, and will seek funding from this Council as soon as possible for the construction of FSD disciplined services quarters at Pak Shing Kok, Tseung Kwan O to cater for the housing needs of FSD staff.

     As regards the proposal for grade structure review, according to the prevailing policy, the Government will consider a number of factors.  The suggestion of a grade structure review for FSD has far-reaching implications.  The relevant bureaux will continue to maintain close communication with the management and the staff side of FSD.

     Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Issued at HKT 13:55
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