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Hong Kong Coroner’s Court Rules ‘Death by Misadventure’ in Case of 2016 Self-Storage Fire

May 11, 2022

9 Min Read
Hong Kong Coroner’s Court Rules ‘Death by Misadventure’ in Case of 2016 Self-Storage Fire

Update 5/11/22 – The coroner’s court in Hong Kong has ruled that the two firefighters who perished in 2016 while battling a four-alarm blaze at SC Storage in the Amoycan Industrial Centre died by misadventure. Deputy Coroner Philip Wong applied the legal definition, noting that Thomas Cheung and Samuel Hui acted lawfully and out of duty but died due to unexpected circumstances.

The ruling ends an eight-month inquest. Both firefighters were awarded posthumous gold medals for bravery six years ago, according to a source.

In addition to his ruling, Wong made several recommendations. For example, he said the Fire Services Department should review its internal communications process to improve response time. In the 2016 incident, a rescue operation wasn’t deployed in time to save the firefighters. He also suggested that the Buildings Department consider regulating self-storage units through a licensing system and that it should be mandatory for tenants of industrial buildings to attend fire drills. At the time of the fire, an employee of the self-storage facility told authorities he didn’t know how to use a fire extinguisher, a source reported.

Andrew Work, executive director of the Self Storage Association Asia (SSAA), disagreed with Wong’s recommendation for a licensing system. He noted that the safety-standards certification program SSAA implemented last year is already designed to promote regulatory compliance, best practices and accountability. The program follows guidelines set forth by the Buildings and Fire Services Departments, and SSAA appointed Knight Frank, an independent real estate consultancy, to manage its implementation and assess local storage facilities.

“Right now we have the strictest regulations in the world, and that should be sufficient,” Work told a source. “Adding another layer of bureaucracy on top of it … it’s hard to see what the objectives would be there.”

Launched in 2014, SSAA provides information, education and support to self-storage owners and operators as well as other industry stakeholders. Its mission is to build a platform that supports its development and establishes industry standards.

6/28/16 – The SC Storage fire in Hong Kong was mostly extinguished as of Saturday, 108 hours after consuming two of the seven floors occupied by the self-storage business. During an examination of stored contents, investigators found compressed gases and other substances that produced “inflammable vapors,” according to a source. Dangerous goods subject to regulations on approved storage premises and licensing from the director of fire services were found on the first, fourth, fifth and sixth floors.

Hong Kong law limits the amount of regulated, dangerous goods that can be stored without a license. Self-storage tenants or operators in violation of the requirements could face legal consequences, including maximum penalties of 18 months in jail and a fine of HK$25,000, a source reported.

A cross-departmental taskforce of fire, police and independent experts was being assembled to look into the cause of the fire and weigh in on the use of industrial buildings for self-storage. Debate among officials has continued regarding possible regulations requiring tenants from disclosing the goods they are storing.

Nip Yuen-fung, chairman of the Fire Services Department Staffs General Association, told a source that allowing tenants to self-report their stored contents was too weak a solution. “[Self-storage operators] may have guidelines which state no dangerous goods can be stored in the cubicles, but if all it says is if you breach it they’ll end your contract, then the regulatory oversight is quite weak,” he said. “Right now, every time [officials] want to carry out inspection, they need to get the storage owner to come and unlock [the unit], to see what’s been stored inside.”

Conducting security checks on every tenant isn’t realistic, according to Eddy Li Sau-hung, president of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association, who is also the landlord of an industrial building. “It is infeasible for the landlord or operator to have to conduct security checks every time,” he told the source. “You can put a hundred things on a contract, but if the customer doesn’t care, what can you do?” Li recommended the government be in charge of security checks.

Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung, a planning board member, suggested implementing a licensing system in which self-storage operators and customers share responsibility for the goods being stored. Former fire chief Anthony Lam Chun Man said self-storage operators should conduct risk assessments.

Kevin She, co-founder of SC Storage, indicated in a Facebook post that the operator had made some operational mistakes and taken action to improve management of the facility. “I have learned a valuable lesson,” he wrote. “Thank you everyone for your support and criticism.” She said he would cooperate fully with the investigation.

She also pledged HK$500,000 in financial aid to the families of both firefighters who died fighting the blaze. Hang Lung Properties, which owns the building, has offered HK$1 million to each family and set up a HK$1 million education fund for each of their children, a source reported.

6/23/16 – A second firefighter has died as a result of injuries sustained in the fire at SC Storage, which has been burning for four days. Senior firefighter Hui Chi-kit, 37, was taken to United Christian Hospital Thursday at 7:30 p.m. after losing consciousness at the scene, according to the source. He died at 9:10 p.m. Chi-kit is survived by his wife and 7-year-old son.

A second firefighter has died as a result of injuries sustained in the fire at SC Storage, which has been burning for four days. Senior firefighter Hui Chi-kit, 37, was taken to United Christian Hospital Thursday at 7:30 p.m. after losing consciousness at the scene, according to the source. He died at 9:10 p.m. Chi-kit is survived by his wife and 7-year-old son.

Two other firefighters were also taken to the hospital Thursday evening. In all, 11 firefighters have been hospitalized.

David Lai Man-hin, director of the Hong Kong Fire Services Department, held a press conference late Thursday to express his condolences and said he wouldn’t sacrifice the lives any more firefighters. A committee will be formed to investigate the deaths, he added. Man-hin didn’t comment on questions from reporters about why a more “active” firefighting strategy wasn’t employed, the source reported.

Although cracks are beginning to appear on the exterior walls of the 66-year-old building, authorities claim the structure isn’t in imminent danger of collapse.

6/22/16 – The SC Storage fire has continued to burn more than 36 hours after it began and spread to the fourth floor of the building, which is also part of the self-storage facility. Fire crews tried to prevent the blaze from spreading by spraying water into the fourth floor, but heat from the lower floor was too strong, according to the source. Responders have also tried to cool the fifth floor, which also houses storage units.

The fire, which killed 30-year-old firefighter Thomas Cheung, has prompted criticism from citizens and officials who say few improvements have been made to aging infrastructure since a firefighter was killed in 2010. Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok announced there will be citywide inspections of all self-storage facilities to review how fire-safety standards can be strengthened, the source reported.

Changes to municipal building laws and self-storage regulations could be on the horizon, after officials indicated the layout of the storage facility and unknown contents inside units have made extinguishing the fire more difficult.

Buildings in Hong Kong were not required to have automatic-sprinkler systems until 1973. The eight-story Amoycan Industrial Centre was built in 1961. Current law doesn’t require older industrial buildings to meet current safety standards, according to the source.

The SC Storage fire is the longest in Hong Kong since December 1995, when it took firefighters 40 hours to put out a building fire in the Kwai Chung area.

6/21/16 – A firefighter died on Tuesday battling a four-alarm blaze at an SC Storage self-storage facility in the Ngau Tau Kok area of Hong Kong. The fire was contained to the third floor of the Amoycan Industrial Centre building in the Kwun Tong district. Thirty fire engines and about 120 firefighters were deployed. Four other respondents were treated at a hospital for dehydration and smoke inhalation, according to the source.

The unidentified firefighter who died was found after a 30-minute search. The senior station officer is survived by his wife and a 4-month-old child.

SC Storage comprises 2,400 square meters on multiple floors of the building. While firefighters were able to contain the blaze to the third floor, they faced challenges due to the configuration of the units. The floor housed more than 200 units with narrow passageways, according to Poon Wai-lun, deputy chief fire officer of the Kowloon Fire Services Department.

“We encountered some difficulties in the blaze due to a large area, severe heat and dense smoke,” Wai-lun told the source. “Each cubicle was locked by occupants. We had to break them open to hose them.”

Water was sprayed into the facility using two aerial ladders, the source reported.

Tenants who use the facility include Kam Siu-man, a well-known comic-book artist and co-owner of the G. Goal Club, a local comic-book store. “Perhaps our valuable collections, such as original manuscripts, old comic books and vinyl records are now reduced to ashes,” Siu-man posted on his Facebook page.

No suspected cause of the fire was reported.

SC Storage operates several self-storage facilities in Hong Kong and Macau, China.

New Sources:
RTHK, License System ‘Unnecessary’ for Mini-Storage
RTHK, Firemen Died by Misadventure in Mini Storage Unit
The Standard, Death of Two Firefighters Killed in Ngau Tau Kok Blaze Ruled as by Misadventure

Previous Sources:
Hong Kong Free Press: Second Firefighter Dies in Hospital as Storage Unit Fire Rages Into Fourth Day
Hong Kong Free Press: Dangerous Goods Discovered in Fire Building; Storage Unit Owner Pledges $500K to Firefighters’ Families
South China Morning Post: Mini-Storage Fire at Hong Kong Industrial Building Prompts Debate on Declaring Stored Goods
South China Morning Post: Compressed Gases and Dangerous Goods Found in Hong Kong Building Where Inferno Killed Two Firemen
South China Morning Post: Ngau Tau Kok Inferno Exposes Hong Kong’s Historical Failings as Blaze Spreads to Fourth Floor
South China Morning Post: Hong Kong Firefighter Dies After Battling Fourth-Alarm Blaze in Ngau Tau Kok Industrial Building

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