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New Technology Helps Extinguish FF Fears

New Technology Helps Extinguish FF Fears

Press Photo

The Standard via YellowBrix

May 04, 2010

HONG KONG – Officials yesterday unveiled increased safety features in new breathing apparatus supplied to firefighters in the wake of a Cheung Sha Wan blaze that claimed a senior fireman’s life.

The high-tech apparatus features blinking masks and beeping alarms that help track a fireman in distress as well as a device that tracks the amount of air supply left.

About 1,500 of the gadgets, which cost an estimated HK$20,000 each, have been in use since April 8 after passing two weeks of testing.

The death of Yeung Chun-kit two months ago raised concerns over the safety of the old breathing apparatus.

The most novel feature of the new equipment is a scout – an electronic handheld device connected wirelessly to the breathing apparatus which tracks the amount of air left in the tank.

“After three minutes of usage, the scout will start recording how long the fireman can breathe in order to work safely,” said divisional officer (diving) Kwan Kam-wing.

An electronic countdown of the amount of air left in the gadget is also displayed in the mask itself, making it easier for firefighters to keep track.

Besides tracking data, the scout is also designed to automatically set off an alarm if the fireman collapses at the fire scene and needs help.

“If the scout is dropped or left alone for 20 seconds while in use, it will start beeping and raise an alarm so other firemen can know [a colleague] is in need of help,” Kwan said.

The mask also features blinking red lights to alert colleagues if a fireman is in dire need of help.

Fears aired by members of the Fire Services Department Staff’s General Association that the scout is not waterproof were allayed when the gadget was dumped into a bucket of water.

The test proved that the gadget was still working after it had been submerged completely.

“The scout is protected by a rubber cover which is waterproof. Also, while at a fire scene, water spraying from a hose may not even enter the scout directly,” said chief fire officer Lai Man-hin.

“But by submerging [the device] completely, water has a higher chance of entering it, but it was fine.”

He added that firemen need time to familiarize themselves with the new equipment, and they are encouraged to report any defects.

Association chairman Chiu Sin- chung rued that some members did not approach him regarding concerns over the gear and went to the media directly.

“We must understand the truth and liaise with the department. Firemen must have the confidence to use the apparatus, and the first priority for us is always safety,” he said.