A fourth-alarm fire in Kowloon Bay has claimed the life of a firefighter, whilst eight of his colleagues have been hospitalised. The blaze, which has been burning since Tuesday morning, swept through a floor filled with mini storage units. As of Wednesday lunchtime, it has yet to be put out. Meanwhile, the government has vowed to inspect all mini storage unit facilities in Hong Kong.
Thomas Cheung, a 30-year-old senior station officer, died on Tuesday night after being found unconscious inside the Amoycan Industrial Centre. He was trapped inside the building for more than half an hour before his colleagues could rescue him.
Cheung, a University of Hong Kong graduate, is survived by his wife and a four-month-old child. The Alumni Association of Wei Lun Hall, where Cheung stayed when studying at HKU, expressed their sadness over the loss. It gave details on an official Facebook page of HKU for donations to his family.
HKU Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson said the university is deeply saddened, “but at the same time proud that Thomas has worked to save the lives of others despite the risk to his own.”
The Hong Kong Fire Services Department Staffs General Association chairman Nip Yuen-fung said on a Commercial Radio programme on Wednesday that Cheung was a hero and the union will help his family.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said he was saddened over the death when he visited the injured firefighters at the United Christian Hospital on Tuesday night, and said the government would try its best to help Cheung’s family.
All eight other firefighters that were hospitalised have been discharged as of Wednesday night.
Locked storage units
The fire at the 66-year-old building started at 10:59am on Tuesday, it was upgraded to a third-alarm fire at 12:14pm, and fourth-alarm by 7:46pm.
The floor in question contained more than 200 mini storage units in a 2,400 square metre space run by SC Storage.
Poon Wai-lun, acting deputy chief officer (Kowloon) of the Fire Services Department said that the premises were not equipped with sprinkler systems, and firefighters had to break open each locked unit to put out the fire. The alleyways were narrow and temperatures were high, meaning it was a dangerous environment and a difficult mission.
Despite the absence of sprinkler systems, the building met fire regulations. A new law in 2007 stipulated that 12,000 buildings built before 1987 must improve their fire safety measures, but industrial buildings older than 30 years by that time were exempted.
The Fire Services Department inspected buildings built before 1973 without sprinkler systems in 2010. Such buildings were advised to improve their fire reels and water tanks.
Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said on Wednesday that the government will inspect all mini storage units in Hong Kong. Inspections would be carried out by the Buildings Department, the Lands Department and the Labour Department.
The Security Bureau will lead a cross-department unit to improve the safety of mini storage units, Lai said. He added that the government will not rule out amending laws after consulting the industry.
SC Storage said in a statement that it has formed a committee to review fire safety issues at all mini storage units. It said it will look into improving fire service installations, and will improve staff training.
The company said it has contacted over 100 customers to provide assistance.
Fire insurance for the lease of the units does not cover the loss of the items kept within the units. However, Kevin Shee, founder of the company, told Apple Daily that the company was considering compensating customer losses after seeking for legal advice.