Hong Kong fire officials have warned the city’s protesters that arson and obstructing firefighters puts lives at risk, noting that as many as half of the fire calls on protest days were not reached within the target time of six minutes.
The Hong Kong Fire Services Department on Thursday appealed for an end to setting fires, disrupting services, blocking roads and intercepting fire trucks.
On some days of mass protests, officials said, the average delay in response time had reached 20 minutes.
In Kowloon over the first 23 days of October, the number of times ambulances failed to reach a scene within 12 minutes increased by more than 60 per cent compared to the same period last year, from 1,009 to 1,657.
“We do not want to see even one call where the patient loses out on treatment time due to delays,” said Deputy Chief Ambulance Officer Tsang Man-ha.
“This is someone’s life at stake. We never know how serious the condition of the patient could be.”
Fires have increasingly been set at MTR stations and mainland-linked shops in the continuing anti-government protest crisis.
From June 9 to October 22, there have been 718 cases of arson and 1,030 emergency calls relating to the protests, according to officials.
“Protesters setting fires to facilities is a complete disregard for the safety of others,” Derek Armstrong Chan, the deputy chief fire officer, said at Thursday’s news conference.
“If it results in a big fire, and if fire trucks cannot arrive on time due to roads being blocked, the consequences would be unimaginable.”
The fire services website pledged that firefighters would arrive at the scene of fire calls within six minutes in at least 92.5 per cent of cases.
But on recent days of protest, response times have been severely hampered. On October 4 – when protests erupted over an anti-mask law – only half of the fire calls were responded to within six minutes, according to the department.
On October 1, the National Day protest, only 72 per cent of calls were reached within six minutes and on Sunday, when an estimated 350,000 people marched in Kowloon, only 62 per cent hit the response-time target.
The department said there were 109 fire calls in Kowloon on Sunday, 77 of which were related to the protests.
Firefighters on that day were not able to reach 56 calls within the target time and the average delay was around 20 minutes.
Cheung Kwong-yuen, the acting divisional commander for Kowloon South, described a case that day in which a fire services command vehicle responding to a call in Mong Kok was intercepted by protesters on Canton Road who demanded to check the tool compartments.
It took more than 10 minutes before protesters allowed the vehicle to pass.
“This severely delayed us in carrying out our duties,” he said.
Protesters started to inspect or block fire trucks and emergency vehicles after posts appeared online accusing the department of assisting police in arresting protesters or carrying out undercover work.
Tsang said it was reasonable for police officers to ride in emergency vehicles, such as when officers were injured or needed to investigate crimes or accompany suspects to hospitals.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.