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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2015 1:49 pm 
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Lax fire safety laws in Hong Kong leaving villagers at risk, Ombudsman investigation finds
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 August, 2015, 4:30pm
Jennifer Ngo

Access to emergency services became an urgent topic for village house owners after two children, Elliot and Frankie Watkiss (inset), died in a fire at a house in Pat Heung Upper Village, near Yuen Long.

A legal loophole has allowed over 90 per cent of village house owners who built their homes since 2006 to opt out of constructing emergency vehicular access to their properties, posing a possible safety risk for villagers, a year-long investigation by the Ombudsman has revealed.

Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing said yesterday there is currently no legislation regulating fire safety measures for village houses, which are exempt from related clauses in the Buildings Ordinance. She urged the government to review whether current requirements are sufficient.

A father who lost two sons in a fire on the third storey of their village home said the government should regulate village houses like any other building.

“I think the lives of people living in villages are just as important as people living in city buildings,” said Simon Watkiss, an actor from Britain whose sons Elliot and Frankie died aged seven and eight in 2012, when a fire broke out in the family’s Pat Heung Upper Village home while they were sleeping.

A fire truck was unable to get to the house to tackle the blaze because the emergency vehicular access path was only three metres wide – half the width it should have been, Watkiss said.

He said had the truck been able to reach their home, the boys could have been rescued from the third floor using the truck’s retractable ladder. Instead, firefighters were forced to park the truck on the main road, run to the house and break down the front door, which took “far too long”.

“Do we have to wait for an accident to happen before action is taken?” Watkiss said.

An inquest into the boys’ death was delayed earlier this year when the coroner asked police to make further inquiries with the Fire Services Department, Lands Department and Buildings Department concerning the rescue operation as well as vehicular access to villages and whether it may endanger others in a similar emergency.

According to the report on the Ombudsman’s investigation, the Lands Department and Fire Services Department have been trying to persuade house owners to implement fire safety measures.

Ombudsman Connie Lau is suggesting that legislation is needed to fix the problem.

According to fire safety guidelines, if a newly built house is the tenth house in a village cluster, the owner should build an emergency access path. If it is not possible due to geographical constraints or land ownership issues, the owner must install either an automatic sprinkler or a fire detection system with a fire extinguisher or hose reel. More than 90 per cent of the 2,169 village houses built since 2006 have opted to forgo building a path in favour of these substitutes.

“Installing a sprinkler or other measures inside the new house does not help if a fire breaks out in any of the other nine houses,” said Margaret Fung Tin-lai, senior investigation officer for the Ombudsman.

A surveyor familiar with land issues in the New Territories, David Tse Kin-wah, said owners renting land from multiple landowners to build an access path is a complicated matter.

A Lands Department spokeswoman said it would follow up on the Ombudsman’s recommendations to improve fire safety.

Yu Lai fan is always ready to play the "emergency vehicle access" card when she wants to pour concrete in the harbour or on the hillsides. But she is silent when it comes to getting villagers to stop blocking access to other houses.

Like for instance the jerks who blocked the path at Hung Shing Yeh next to the noodle shop -- apparently the person responsible was actually the village rep.

And as always, the government is afraid to challenge any of the selfish scumbags who claim housing blocks or put up fences in the middle of a path.

The owners of the land aren't at risk, they live in Aberdeen or Vancouver. But they are allowed to veto anything that doesn't put money in their pockets, regardless of how it affect the people who actually do live here.

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