A Number 4 alarm fire broke out at South Horizons, Ap Lei Chau on April 11 this year. It has been reported that the firefighting efforts encountered difficulties, including fire appliances being unable to enter the access roads in the vicinity of the fire scene, insufficient water pressure from the building’s fire hydrants, as well as some residents not hearing the alarm bells ring. Although the Fire Services Department clarified on the following day that the fire appliances had not been obstructed when entering the emergency vehicular access (EVA) to the fire scene, some members of the public still expressed concern about the potential fire hazards in relation to the narrow EVA to the building and the inadequate maintenance of fire service installations and equipment, etc. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the numbers of buildings and housing estates in Hong Kong which do not have a six-metre wide EVA as specified by the Building Authority under the Building (Planning) Regulations (Cap. 123 sub. leg. F); if such figures are not available, whether it will consider conducting a comprehensive survey;
(b) as it has been reported that buildings completed before the commencement of the requirement in (a) (i.e. 2004) are not subject to the regulation by the provision concerned, whether the Government will consider requiring the buildings and housing estates completed before 2004 to review their designs to see if they comply with the aforesaid requirement, and assisting the buildings and housing estates concerned in putting forward comprehensive plans for improvement; and
(c) as it has been reported that although annual and quarterly inspections of the fire service equipment at South Horizons had been conducted by the fire service installation contractor in July last year and on the day before the fire respectively, malfunctioning still occurred in the form of insufficient water pressure from the fire hydrants and failure of the alarm bells to ring, whether the Government will (i) set up an expert group to examine in depth the causes of the malfunctioning of such fire service equipment, (ii) require a comprehensive inspection to be conducted immediately of the fire service equipment in the buildings in Hong Kong, and (iii) consider prescribing requirements on strengthening the maintenance of such equipment, in order to ensure that the equipment can function in the event of fire?
Reply by the Acting Secretary for Security, Mr John Lee:
My reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:
(a) & (b) According to information provided by the Development Bureau, the Building (Planning) Regulations (Cap. 123F) (the Regulations) were amended in end-2004 to stipulate that a building completed in or after 2005 must be provided with emergency vehicular access (EVA) to facilitate access of emergency vehicles to the building. According to the Code of Practice for the Provision of Means of Access for Firefighting and Rescue Purposes 2004 issued by the Buildings Department (BD), the width of the concerned EVA should be no less than six metres. BD may consider exempting a building from providing an EVA if there are topographical constraints or the use of the building constitutes a lower fire risk. Between 1980 and the amendment of the Regulations, the Administration also implemented an administrative arrangement, where for building development projects involving new land grants, there was a requirement to provide a related access under the lease.
For buildings without EVA, the concerned departments may consider imposing additional requirements on fire safety measures, such as increasing the volume of fire service water tanks and providing ventilation installations at staircases for escape, etc. The local fire stations also conduct regular inspections to the areas under its purview to familiarise themselves with the latest local developments and road conditions to ensure efficiency in operation and rescue in case of fire and other incidents.
BD does not maintain statistics of buildings or housing estates in Hong Kong where EVAs are not provided. In the light of the measures mentioned above (i.e. enhancing fire service installations and familiarisation of road conditions, etc), the Government does not consider it necessary to conduct a comprehensive survey at this point.
(c) For the concerned building in South Horizons where the fire occurred, Fire Services Department (FSD)’s record shows that an annual inspection of fire service installations (FSIs) and equipment was conducted by the registered FSI contractor in July 2012. The annual inspection certificate submitted by the contractor did not indicate any malfunctioning of the FSIs and equipment. In the period between the filing of the certificate and the concerned fire, FSD has not received any report indicating malfunctioning of any FSIs and equipment in the concerned building either.
Regarding the malfunctioning of the FSIs in the concerned building (i.e. insufficient water pressure from the fire hydrant and failure of the fire alarm) on the day of the fire, FSD is conducting investigation, which include testing of the building’s FSIs and equipment. The Department is analysing the data collected so as to confirm the cause of the problem. It will report the result to the concerned District Council and residents’ organisations when the investigation is completed.
In accordance with the Fire Service (Installations and Equipment) Regulations (Cap. 95B), an owner of FSIs/equipment shall make sure that their FSIs/equipment can function properly and have them inspected at least once a year by a registered FSI contractor, who shall forward a copy of the annual inspection certificate to FSD within 14 days after completion of the inspection. FSD will take enforcement actions against FSIs/equipment owners who fail to arrange inspections of their FSIs/equipment on time and against contractors who file a false or misleading certificate, etc. The Department also conducts random checking on the annual inspection certificates and takes appropriate follow-up actions against problems shown on the certificates, such as issuing warning letter to the building concerned, etc.
When a registered FSI contractor is convicted by the Court for contravening a regulation, FSD will refer the case to the Registered FSI Contractors Disciplinary Board for disciplinary inquiry under the Fire Service (Installation Contractors) Regulations (Cap. 95A). Depending on the seriousness and circumstances of the individual case, the Disciplinary Board may reprimand the concerned contractor or remove it from the list of registered FSI contractors.
In addition, FSD monitors the performance of registered FSI contractors through an administrative measure, i.e. a demerit point system. The Department will record demerit points corresponding to the fault and contravention committed by the contractor. It will then adjust its frequency of inspection on FSIs and equipment maintained by such contractors in accordance with the demerit point record. This is to ensure that contractors with unsatisfactory record would be monitored more closely in order to ensure that their service level meets the required standard.