Straight Talk's Eugene Chan (left) interviews Hong Kong’s Director of Fire Services Andy Yeung, March 7, 2023. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Director of Fire Services Andy Yeung is on our show this week.

Yeung tells us how an elite team was put together on very short notice in an international effort, Hong Kong's very first, to help with the rescue effort in the aftermath of the Türkiye earthquake.  In the show, Yeung also explains the importance of raising awareness about the use of AED due to Hong Kong's relatively low survival rate of cardiac arrest victims.

Check out the full transcript of TVB’s Straight Talk host Dr Eugene Chan’s interview with Andy Yeung.

Chan: Good evening! This is Eugene Chan on Straight Talk. Our guest this evening is the Director of Fire Services, Andy Yeung. Yeung, is an engineer by profession and has been with the Hong Kong Fire Services Department for over 30 years, during which rose through the ranks to Chief Fire Officer in 2017. He also holds a master's degree in public sector management, and was appointed as director of fire services last year. Welcome, Andy!

Yeung: Thank you, Eugene. Thank you for inviting me to your show.

Chan: Firstly, we want to congratulate you that we have a search and rescue team that went to Türkiye and involved in, sort of, helping the survivors from a very deadly earthquake that happened. And we are very happy to know that we have rescued four survivors from the debris. I'm sure not all Hong Kong, people will know that we have such a great team. Maybe you can tell us. Is this the first time we have such a team deployed internationally?

Yeung: Yes, this is the first time we deployed our rescue team to the overseas operations. 

Chan: Right. How did you manage this team… or sort of mobilize this in such a short time? Because I think the earthquakes has happened in the weekend. We already over there on a Tuesday as I believe.

Yeung: Yes. And our urban search and rescue team is fully prepared logistically, psychologically and physically for any overseas operations. And the team is able to respond within a short notice and ready to be deployed internationally within 10 hours. That is also the requirement of the INSARAG. That is the International Urban Search and Rescue Advisory Group.

Chan: Right. So, they can be operational within 10 hours. 

Yeung: Yes.

Chan: Well, that's very fast. 

Yeung: Yes. 

Chan: This time when we went to Türkiye, I believe, we also went with the mainland team. I mean, how many people all went together this time?

Yeung: We have our 59 members went to this operation. And to join the more than hundreds of members from the China rescue team.

Chan: So, director, you mentioned that there are also other international teams over at the site. I mean, how good is the Hong Kong and mainland team compared to the international standard?

Yeung: Yes, the Hong Kong team and the China rescue team are on par … under the requirements of the INSARAG that is the International Urban Search and Rescue Advisory Group. The INSARAG is a well-known organization to facilitate the coordination of the international urban search and rescue operations. They also established standards for the user team and to coordinate the international response operation in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Chan: For this, as you say, it's the first time the Hong Kong team actually got out there and helped in the international level. Are there any unexpected challenges or any difficulties that the team has encountered during those few days of hard work?

Yeung: Yes, similar to the international and the local rescue team, our team faced a series of risks and challenges including the further collapse of structure caused by the aftershock and the very cold weather condition and the malfunction of the transportation and the communication network, etc.

Chan: I believe that the team that went there was called the USAR team I thought it was a SAR Hong Kong team but it does stands for something different. What does USAR stands for?

Yeung: It stands for the Urban Search and Rescue. And it's a terminology commonly used by the fire and rescue services all over the world.

Chan: How many of such members we have that belongs to that team? Because you said you have to be ready in 10 hours. And I'm sure you can't send everybody there because Hong Kong needs to be guarded as well. So, how many firemen actually… are there more than firemen in the team?

Yeung: Yes, we have 160 members recruited put from the fire, ambulance and the workshop staff of the department, they are responsible for the search and rescue operation in the event of the building collapse, landslide or the major incidents.

Chan: Right. Since they have to go all the way to Türkiye, can they bring all those equipment? Because in Hong Kong, I'm sure we got some heavier equipment here. So, what do they do? Because they be just going there by themselves with some portable equipment, isn't it?

Yeung: Yes. As I mentioned before, we are always making sure that in particular, for these overseas operations, we have sufficient operation supplies and our heavy-duty lifting equipment, cutting equipment, sawing equipment are always in good and efficient working order.

Chan: Right. So, I'm sure this is… with both 160 members always ready, I mean, are they the fittest team members of the fire services and ambulance?

Yeung: Yes, we conduct the open recruitment exercise for the members who should have passed their probationary period, and to obtain the highest grade in their annual physical fitness test.

Chan: So, if someone wants to join this team, and having to go through such, for example, such as natural disaster, have you ever encountered anybody saying that or the family didn't want them to go especially in the earthquake because of the post aftershock?

Yeung: Yes, because I think the Turkiye mission is a salient example to display FSDs core values. Yes, our rescue teams have displayed their professionalism and bravery are displayed in achieving and completing this quite difficult and yet meaningful mission.

Chan: Sorry to ask a very direct question, do they get paid extra to be on this team for this extra mission?

Yeung: Actually, they only have some allowance for the specialized teams.

Chan: So, we have these 160 members, do they do other work as well during the time or there are many trainings full time for this mission?

Yeung: The urban search and rescue team is only the secondary duty of the member. They also required to carry out the firefighting work and the rescue work.

Chan: Right. So, from your point of view, as a director, are you happy with the performance time, that they saved four survivors?

Yeung: Yes, I am really our proud of our team can save four of the people of Türkiye.

Chan: Right. So, before we move on to another more local subject, I want to ask you, with this experience, they come back being very proud and being able to help in Türkiye, especially working alongside with the mainland team, achieving a good international standard. So, what other plans have you got for them in the future?

Yeung: Yes, looking ahead, we would like to enhance the coordination and collaboration and experience sharing with our China rescue team through regular training and operation. And we are also planning to apply to the INSARAG what I mentioned before, that is the International Urban Search and Rescue Advisory Group to classify our team as the medium-level urban search and rescue team.

Chan: Right. So, let's move on to more local news. Last week, there was a sort of a large fire in Tsim Sha Tsui, up to level four. So, how many fire calls actually do get in Hong Kong? Because we only get to see that in the news, but I'm sure you get many calls.

Yeung: Yes. In 2022. approximately 34,000 fire calls, we received.

Chan: Right, so, about… nearly 100 calls per day. Are they mainly from domestic homes or they're from work or industrial buildings?

Yeung: The major cause of the fire is in the domestic buildings. Yes.

Chan: What are the main reasons? I mean, we have to be very careful that… 

Yeung: Yes, the overcooking of stuff is the major cause of the fire. 

Chan: Really? 

Yeung: Yes. And the other causes of the fire are the electrical fault and the careless handling of the lighted smoking materials.

Chan: So, if we want to have a safe home, how safe do you say are Hong Kong homes in general? Are we safe? 

Yeung: Yes, sure. 

Chan: From a fire point of view?

Director of Fire Services Andy Yeung attends the Straight Talk show on TVB, March 7, 2023. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Yeung: Yes, yes and you may reach below the low death, as compared with the figures such as the rate of death and the rate of injury per 100 fire calls. This figure in Hong Kong is relatively low as compared with metropolitan cities like the New York, Tokyo, and it is crystal clear that Hong Kong is a safe place to live and work.

Chan: Right, just now you mentioned one of the major reasons is overcooking of food without looking at the… with what they're cooking or even electrical appliances. Anything else they can help? I mean, sometimes that's all we can do. What if we were sleeping? If there's a fire, no one will wake it up. It's very dangerous. 

Yeung: Yes.

Chan: So, is there anything that we can do? 

Yeung: Yes, apart from the good housekeeping, and the regular inspection, maintenance of your building, what we call the FSI that is the fire services installations. And I think the installation of the standalone fire detector can help to improve the home fire safety.

Chan: Right. Maybe we'll go to a break now. And when we come back, we talk more about this standalone fire detector. Viewers, don't go away, we'll be right back.

Chan: Welcome back to Straight Talk. We have been talking with Director of Fire Services, Andy Yeung, about the deployment of our urban search and rescue team to the earthquake in Türkiye, and then about how we can fire-proof our homes better in Hong Kong. So, director, in the first part, we just touched on the stand-alone fire detector. What exactly is it? And is it readily available that we could just buy one and put at our home? How many do we need?

Yeung: Yes. The stand-alone fire detector is very popular worldwide, and proven as a highly cost-effective mean in minimizing the losses in case of fire. Therefore we have been actively promoting the wider use of these stand-alone fire detectors, in order to enhance the building fire safety and provide better protection of life and property in Hong Kong. You know, Eugene, the stand-alone fire detector can give early warning to the occupants in particular at the incipient stage of the fire. And when the fire occurs, it is extremely dangerous for the occupants if they are still asleep.

Chan: As you said earlier.

Yeung: Yes. The stand-alone fire detector allows the occupants to escape as early as possible before the smoke, the hot gases filling up the escape route or staircases. 

Chan: Right. As we watched on some of the television shows, often people get choked or they fainted because of smoke and dangerous, poisonous gases. So, what does this stand-alone fire detector do? Does it just detect the smoke and then it will just make a big siren? Is that what it does?

Yeung: Yes. This stand-alone fire detector will give warning upon the activations and upon receive such alarm, the occupants can escape from their units as soon as possible.

Chan: Right. So, how many do we need at one home usually?

Yeung: One home is about approximately 3 or 4 for the living room, for the bedrooms, etc.

Chan: Right. How expensive is it? And how easy is it to install it?

Yeung: It's not expensive. Its cost may range about $200 to $800 depending on its function. And you may wish to purchase the smoke detector from the online platform or the local shops.

Chan: Do we need any qualified person to install this?

Yeung: No. Regarding the legislations on the stand-alone fire detector, the stand-alone fire detectors fall under the FSI definition, that is the fire service installation’s definition of the ordinance. And in the old days, the occupants, the owners are required to engage a registered fire service installation contractor for the installation, maintenance .and inspection of the detector. And the costs involved in engaging the contractor may discourage the people from installing the stand-alone fire detector. And therefore, we proposed the amended legislation in 2021, and under the amended legislations, the owners, the occupiers of the premises or the buildings are no longer required to engage the FSI contractor to install, maintain, and inspect the detector, as long as the detector are installed on their own intention.

Chan: Right. So, director, sounds like this stand-alone fire detector is sort of a… we are going to pay a very small price and instead coming back to really protect our lives and properties. So, how is the fire service department going to promote this? Because I am sure not everyone has this independent stand-alone fire detector. I have them myself. And what would you do to promote this apart from coming to the show? What else will you do? Because it sounds like a very efficient way of safekeeping.

Yeung: FSD has been actively promoting the wider use of these stand-alone fire detectors. Apart from the educational promotional program through various means, such as television, radio, seminars in collaboration with the Home Affairs Department, we also conduct the home fire safety visits to the vulnerable households to help them installing the stand-alone fire detectors, including the households in 3 new buildings. As you know, the CE announced his policy address that the government would install and distribute the fire extinguisher, fire blanket, as well as the stand-alone fire detector to the needy occupants in the old buildings with a view to improving the fire safety of old buildings. Up to now, we have installed a total of 1,500 stand-alone fire detectors to the needy residents. 

Chan: Right. Hopefully more will be done because especially for the needy, if no one is looking after them, I think a smoke alarm will definitely wake them up and give them the best chance should a fire does happen. Let’s move on to another area that I am sure your fire services team or your colleagues are very good at – it is another emergency, it is like cardiac arrest. We also watched on television that if somebody had a heart attack, they will quickly call 999 and you guys will come and help them. And how many calls for such cardiac arrests do you get per year? 

Yeung: Approximately 9,000 number of these cardiac arrest cases were handled by our ambulances. And however, we look at the rate of survival to the hospital discharge, it is approximately about … actually 1.5 percent, which is lower than the global average of 8 percent.

Chan: So, this is quite alarming. So, every call, only 1-2 person survives, compared to other places where you have 8 percent who survive. Why is this the case? I mean when you said Hong Kong rescue team is just as good anywhere, and in Hong Kong we do well in most things. Why are we so low compared to the world standard of 8 percent? Why is that?

Yeung: I think because the number of the AED can be accessible in Hong Kong is an issue. And also the community emergency preparedness training, including the use of AED and the CPR is another issue.

Chan: Right. When you said CPR, I am sure you are referring to the cardiopulmonary resuscitation that we sort of give… 2 breaths and then 15 thumps onto the chest. Isn’t that enough? Why do you say that we need AEDs?

Yeung: Yes. You know, the most effective way to handle the cardiac arrest case is continuously perform the effective CPR. But however, you know, the CPR alone can only maintain the limited blood circulation of the patient, and cannot restore the normal heart rhythm of the patient. Therefore, the AED is very important in saving lives. 

Chan: AED stands for automated external defibrillator. 

Yeung:  Yes.

Chan: I mean for healthcare professionals, we have that in our establishments. But for the general public, they don’t get access to it. And also, although you said they have got a voicemail sort of teaching them what to do, but most people would be too scared to actually help. How would you actually help to break this barrier, so that our 1.5 percent will go up, at least closer to 8 percent?

Yeung: Yes, you know, we will further promote the use of AED and the CPR. The FSD has been actively referring to the international and the mainland experience, and actively launching and developing the community emergency preparedness strategies, including the use of AED and CPR. And we also have a slogan, it is “Anyone can use AED”. And the slogan implies…

Chan: Anyone can use it.

Yeung: Yes, regardless of anyone or you, regardless of your occupation, sex, age, body size, can help out in the community for emergency.

Chan: Right. Director, compared to the stand-alone fire detector, which is only a few hundred dollars. The AED is at least $10,000-20,000.

Yeung: Yes.

Chan: It’s more expensive for people to just buy one and put at home. So, how can we know, just in case there is an AED around, is there anything that we can find out?

Yeung: Yes, we have a program called ‘CARE’, that stands for Centralized AED Registry for Emergency. And this is an online information platform, it provides the details of the AED, there are 1,600 throughout Hong Kong. Such information is provided by the participating government departments and the organizations. The objective of this program is to facilitate timely access to the locations of AED.

Chan: So, we can find them even if we don’t have one?

Yeung: Yes. And I just mentioned before, and this is an online information platform, and the people can access this platform through various means, such as mobile phones, computers, other portable devices without the need to download any apps, programs, or register in advance. 

Chan: Right, okay. We want to thank director Andy Yeung for sharing with us the impact the fire services have made, both internationally and locally. He has also shown us how simple things like installing a smoke alarm and AED can save the lives of our loved ones. We really do need to take heed of this as a community. Have a good week and good night!