Fire Services Department Year-end Review 2022 (with photo)
Over the last year, the Fire Services Department (FSD) has been tackling enormous epidemic-induced adversities, along with challenges stemming from areas such as, among others, firefighting, rescue, ambulance service and fire protection regulatory work. Despite the headwinds, all members of the FSD have remained committed to their duties and have given their best. Thanks to their tireless dedication, the FSD has been able to continue to provide highly effective fire and ambulance services to the public.
1) Reorganisation of the FSD
To keep in step with the development of society and the Department, the FSD implemented the recommendations in the Report on the Grade Structure Review for the Disciplined Services Grades in July last year by creating the post of Deputy Director (Public Safety and Corporate Strategy), with the incumbent Deputy Director redesignated as Deputy Director (Operations). In the reorganisation exercise, a new command, named the Operational Support and Professional Development Command, was established, and the former Headquarters Command was renamed the Corporate Strategy Command.
In addition, a three-year supernumerary Deputy Chief Fire Officer post, designated as Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Building Improvement), was created last year in the Fire Safety Command for supervising the amendment work of the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance, monitoring and implementing policies on enhancing fire safety of old buildings, as well as supervising and enhancing the enforcement of legislation related to fire safety of old buildings.
2) Firefighting and rescue services
The FSD received a total of 34 775 fire calls last year, representing an increase of 2.6 per cent over 2021 (33 891 cases) and, among which, five involved No. 3 alarm or above fires, down one from six in 2021.
The FSD received a total of 31 111 building fire calls last year, representing an increase of 6.7 per cent over 2021 (29 157 cases) and 94.9 per cent of which were responded to within the graded response time, about 2.4 percentage points higher than the FSD's performance pledge of 92.5 per cent. There were several notable fire incidents during the year, including a No. 3 alarm fire at a construction site in Hoi Kok Street, Tsuen Wan, in April and a No. 1 alarm fire on a power cable bridge in Wang Lok Street, Yuen Long, in June.
Regarding special services calls, there were a total of 35 314 calls last year, representing a decrease of 2.4 per cent over 2021 (36 176 cases). A notable incident was a rare accident in September involving the collapse of a tower crane in Anderson Road, Sau Mau Ping, resulting in three deaths and six injuries.
3) Fire protection regulatory work
The FSD has sustained its efforts to fine-tune the arrangements and procedures of fire protection regulatory work. This can help boost efficiency and hence improve fire safety in a more effective manner, with the dual objectives of meeting the need of social development and addressing people's aspirations for better living conditions.
On dangerous goods control, the newly amended Dangerous Goods Ordinance and its subsidiary legislations came into effect on March 31, 2022. A 24-month transitional period is provided to allow time for the industry and the public to adapt to the changes and for interface in various aspects. The new legislation was introduced to align the regulatory standards in Hong Kong with international requirements in terms of classification, marking and labelling of dangerous goods, and to strengthen the licensing regime for the manufacture, conveyance, storage and use of dangerous goods.
To enhance fire safety of old buildings, the Government has proposed to amend the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance in such a way that the FSD and the Buildings Department are given power to carry out fire safety improvement works for owners of old composite and domestic buildings, who have failed to comply with the requirements of the Ordinance, and to recover the relevant fees from them afterwards. The public consultation on the proposed amendments was completed in September last year. The Government is now consolidating, analysing and taking the views collected as reference, and the plan is to submit the legislative amendment proposal in the form of a bill to the Legislative Council for scrutiny in 2023.
Regarding the certification and acceptance inspection of fire service installations and equipment (FSI), the FSD has streamlined work procedures and arrangements so as to expedite the work process and keep pace with infrastructure developments in Hong Kong. To speed up the acceptance inspections of public housing developments, the FSD has, at one time, formed as many as six additional dedicated teams of a total of 12 members to ensure that the inspection and testing of the FSI concerned could be completed in six working days. Over the last year, the FSD has completed FSI acceptance inspections for a number of major building projects, while continuously working in close co-operation with stakeholders in the industry in hopes of achieving a higher rate of success in certification and acceptance inspections.
The FSD conducted a total of 433 466 fire safety inspections last year, among which 282 138, representing 65 per cent of the total, were targeted at the repair and maintenance of FSI in buildings. As a result, a total of 8 132 Fire Hazard Abatement Notices were issued and among which 1 767 cases were brought to prosecution.
Separately, the FSD conducted a total of 906 inspections and surprise operations against illicit fuelling activities last year, 19 of which were joint surprise operations with other enforcement authorities. A total of over 380 000 litres of illicit fuel were seized and prosecutions were instigated against 249 cases.
4) Ambulance services
There were 740 129 ambulance calls received in 2022, representing a decrease of 3.3 per cent over 2021 (765 614 cases). Of them, 703 113 were emergency calls, representing a decrease of 1.7 per cent over 2021 (715 194 cases). Last year, 88 per cent of the emergency calls were responded to within the target response time of 12 minutes, which was about 4.5 percentage points lower than the FSD's performance pledge of 92.5 per cent.
The plight of the fifth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic led to a surge in the demand for ambulance services. There was a record of more than 2 700 ambulance calls received by the FSD in one single day. Over half of them were COVID-19 related. The time taken to handle such cases was 1.5 to two times longer than usual. Once, 866 ambulance personnel, accounting for about a quarter of the total ambulance manpower, were absent from work due to COVID-19 infection or were under quarantine, leading to a deep shortage of manpower on the front line. On the other hand, ambulances had to be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned after attendance to each confirmed case. Under these exceptional circumstances, the number of ambulances available for mobilisation and the response time were both gravely affected.
To cope with this and other emergency situations, the FSD took a target-oriented approach to formulate a series of emergency response strategies and measures. The department arranged staff to work overtime and employed retired ambulance personnel to ease the manpower shortage. On top of this, the FSD also deployed non-frontline ambulance personnel and fire personnel who were qualified first responders to take up ambulance duties. In early March last year, Queen Elizabeth Hospital was converted to a COVID-19 designated hospital. Many patients in the hospital needed to be transferred by ambulances to hospitals in other districts in a few days' time. In response, the FSD once issued a five-day "Service Stand-to" alert, during which interim measures were taken, including rearranging the duty rosters of ambulance personnel, as well as requesting staff to cancel leaves and take up shifts even on leave days.
To expedite the turnover of ambulances, the FSD activated the Director's Command Post and the Ambulance Command Post. They were tasked to, among others, divert ambulances to various accident and emergency departments, manage disinfection of ambulances, arrange staggered meal breaks for staff, and deploy additional ambulances to clear the backlog of emergency calls. Regarding the disinfection of ambulances, the department set up disinfection facilities at appropriate locations near hospitals and hired additional contractors to carry out cleaning and disinfection work.
On the other hand, in view of the large number of confirmed patients pending admission to community isolation facilities (CIFs), the FSD built a dedicated fleet for the conveyance of non-emergency confirmed patients by immediately retrofitting some of the FSD's personnel carriers and renting a few dozen coaches at the outset of the fifth wave of the epidemic. The measures successfully raised the capacity of the fleet within a short period of time.
5) Anti-epidemic efforts
On top of the delivery of ambulance service, the FSD also played an active part in the Government's efforts to control and contain the epidemic.
The Director's Command Post, in a bid to promptly transfer the confirmed patients to CIFs, set up an AI-powered social media service platform that could deliver round-the-clock automated inquiries and instant replies. Last year, a cumulative total of over 200 000 confirmed patients were transferred to CIFs under the FSD's arrangement. Among them were 36 DSE candidates, who were sent to Penny's Bay CIF for isolation and sitting the examination.
Many residential care homes for the elderly and residential care homes for persons with disabilities suffered COVID-19 outbreaks during the epidemic. The FSD took up the role as a co-ordinator, bringing together the efforts of the Auxiliary Medical Service, the Hospital Authority and St John Ambulance Brigade, in assisting the Social Welfare Department (SWD) in multiple operations to transfer residents between the isolation facilities and the residential care homes. At a later stage, the FSD also undertook to provide the transfer services when the SWD set up holding centres to take care of confirmed residents who are asymptomatic or showing mild symptoms. Last year, the FSD co-ordinated over 4 000 such operations with more than 10 000 residents served.
6) View of national security
The FSD has been committed to promoting among its members a better understanding of national affairs, the Constitution, the Basic Law and the National Security Law through training, exchange activities and other means. The FSD resolves to uphold the responsibility to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests, and to ensure the steadfast and successful implementation of the "one country, two systems" principle. The department fully implemented the Chinese-style foot drill in 2022, and formed the FSD's Guard of Honour comprising over 100 uniformed members across grades who served on a secondary-duty basis. The Guard of Honour also promotes the Chinese-style foot drill through different platforms, apart from performing protocol and ceremonial services.
Last December, the FSD co-organised a training scheme with local associations and schools in the Wong Tai Sin district. Members of the Guard of Honour and trainers from the Fire and Ambulance Services Teen Connect (FAST Connect) reached out to various schools to teach students the Chinese-style foot drill and flag raising techniques. Through the scheme, the department aims to nurture youth in Hong Kong a deeper sense of belonging to the country. The plan is to gradually bring Chinese-style foot drill training to other local communities in Hong Kong.
On enhancing community emergency preparedness, the FSD Community Collaboration Network was established in September last year to foster a closer partnership with the 18 District Fire Safety Committees, for the creation of a cohesive community network to facilitate the implementation of FSD policies and measures, and disseminate messages on fire safety and community emergency preparedness.
7) Youth development
The FSD has been engaged in youth development work. The department set its sights on nurturing a new generation with quality for the benefit of society, through an array of programmes to broaden young people's horizons, unleash their potential and help them with character building.
Since the establishment of FAST Connect in 2021, about 180 members have been recruited. The FSD plans to increase the number of recruits to 300 in this academic year. In addition to imparting the knowledge of fire and ambulance services, FAST Connect also provides training with elements of national education, such as the Chinese-style foot drill, and arranges different volunteer activities to enrich the learning and life experience of teenage members and to cultivate in them positive thinking, law-abiding awareness and national identity. Moreover, subject to the epidemic development, visits to the Greater Bay Area (GBA) will be arranged as appropriate to provide members with exchange and internship opportunities, and allow them to understand the development of the country.
Over the last year, the FSD has continued to proactively assist ethnic minority youths in integrating into the community and instil positive values in them. At present, there are a total of 14 non-ethnic Chinese serving members in the FSD, with five of them now undergoing foundation training. They come from different ethnic origins including Pakistani, Vietnamese, Filipino, Scottish, Nepalese, Thai and Indonesian.
8) Leveraging technology
The FSD has moved with the times and strived to make the most of technology to enhance the efficiency of firefighting and rescue operations. Last year, the department procured two firefighting robots that can be deployed on fire grounds, as well as 20 unmanned aircraft systems which can be fitted with various accessories and AI analytics software. Moreover, the FSD also ushered in the "Patient Tagging System for Multiple Casualties Incidents" which is designed to accelerate the processing of casualty data.
Separately, the FSD has proactively promoted the “AED Anywhere for Anyone” programme for the wider use of AED (automated external defibrillators) among the public. As at end of last year, the total number of participating organisations and community partners has reached over 160, making available for public use a total of more than 1 600 AEDs.
9) Plans for the year ahead
Looking ahead to the new year, the FSD will, as always, do the utmost to fulfil its mission to save those in distress and protect the community. Besides its duties in fire and ambulance services, the department will also be proactive in taking forward the initiatives highlighted in the Policy Address that involve the FSD, including safeguarding national security, deepening the co-operation and exchanges with FSD counterparts in fire and rescue services in the GBA, leveraging innovative technologies to elevate the quality of its services, strengthening community emergency preparedness capabilities, enhancing fire safety in old buildings and raising law-abiding awareness among the younger generation.
Moreover, the department expects to recruit 771 personnel for the fire and ambulance streams this year - 141 of officer rank and 630 of rank-and-file rank. They will fill the vacancies arising from natural wastage in 2023. The FSD will organise more career talks and exhibitions, and send representatives to tertiary institutions to conduct career briefings with a view to attracting young talent to fire and ambulance services.
The FSD aspires to build a home brand. With its specialised teams now becoming skilled and experienced, the department will apply for accreditation of its training courses under the Qualifications Framework to affirm its professional status. The training courses for the High Angle Rescue Team and Compartment Fire Specialists are expected to be accredited in the second quarter this year.
This year, the FSD will forge closer collaboration with its counterparts in the GBA. The department aims, among others, to sustain its efforts to hold more training courses and technical exchange sessions for them, to maintain communication and interaction with them via the established platform, to work towards mutual recognition of each other's professional qualifications, to raise expertise and international status of the profession, and to facilitate the development of fire and rescue services in the GBA.
The FSD will also continue to help achieve the Government's objective of developing Hong Kong into a smart city. The FSD is currently conducting a study in collaboration with a local university on the use of an AI algorithm together with big data and geographical information to evaluate and predict the fire safety risks of each building in Hong Kong so that the fire safety inspection plans can be optimised. Apart from that, the department will devise an ambulance dispatch simulator to estimate the demand for emergency ambulance services with an aim to optimise the deployment and dispatch of ambulances. Furthermore, an integrated mobile app will soon be developed to facilitate mountain rescue operations. In conjunction with the GPS in mobile devices, the app can be more accurate in identifying the location of missing persons. This will be conducive to operational deployment and significantly cut search time.
Over the year 2022, the FSD has surmounted many difficulties and rolled out initiatives and secured success in various areas of work. The department thanks various sectors of the community for their support during the last year. All FSD members will continue to stand as one to protect the people of Hong Kong and safeguard national security in order to meet public expectations.
Ends/Wednesday, January 18, 2023
Issued at HKT 16:35
Issued at HKT 16:35