Want to get fired up? The Hong Kong Fire Services Department is seeking hundreds of recruits
As a member of the Hong Kong Fire Services Department (FSD), whose primary purpose is to serve and protect the community, a career as a Hong Kong fireman or firewoman is challenging, offers a variety of career opportunities, and is hugely rewarding.
The men and woman of the FSD can be called upon to cover a range of incidents, including traffic and industrial accidents, gas leakages, landslides, flooding, building collapses, and even malfunctioning lifts.
In the next year, the FSD is aiming to recruit 60 station officers, 15 ambulance officers, 160 firemen and about 160 ambulance personnel.
In 1953, Hong Kong’s ambulance services were amalgamated with the FSD, which laid the foundation for the present Ambulance Command.
“The first and most important question that anyone considering a career as a Hong Kong firefighter should ask themselves is: ‘Do I have the wholehearted willingness to serve the community?’,” says Wong Ka-wing, divisional officer of the FSD’s recruitment, training and examination group. “Being a fireman is about being trustworthy, and someone the public can always rely on in any situation,” he adds. “At all times it is important to have the personal character necessary to properly and respectfully represent the department and profession.”
When recruiting, Wong says the FSD looks for candidates that display maturity, a high standard of integrity and the confidence to remain calm during any crisis they may face. “We can teach the hard skills, but qualities such as social awareness, good judgment, communication abilities, a high sense of responsibility and a readiness to serve the community need to be core competencies,” says Wong.
To be considered as a viable FSD candidate, in addition to being physically fit and having the necessary education qualifications, jobseekers should familiarise themselves with Hong Kong society and community expectations from public services and have a natural desire to know how the world around them works. On successfully completing a 36-week firefighting, rescue and ambulance foundation training programme, recruits are assigned to fire stations around Hong Kong to begin a three-year probation period. “On-the-job field training is very important because this is where recruits are dealing with real life scenarios,” says Wong, who adds that the rapid increase in Hong Kong’s high-rise infrastructure requires FSD professionals to continually update their fire-fighting, rescue, fire protection, and ambulance services skills. The FSD also provides public education and awareness training and carries out fire safety inspections on licensed premises.
Based on potential, ability and personal interests, the FSD provides a number of structured career advancement pathways. With operational experience under their belt, Wong says FSD men and women from officer grade to frontline operations can choose from various advanced training programmes to gain specialised skills. There are fire services technology and management leadership skills courses available. These include road traffic accident rescue, street water rescue, risk assessment, urban search and rescue, aircraft fire, hazardous materials, structural collapse, fire investigation, and high angle rescues.
At the end of this year, FSD recruits will begin training at the new Fire Services Training School (FSTS) in Tseung Kwan O. The FSTS will provide fire and ambulance personnel, who often work closely in emergencies, with more opportunities to train together.
Held in high esteem by international fire authorities, the FSD has a reputation as one of the world’s busiest fire brigades. Last year there was a total of 36,335 fire calls. Also during 2014, there were more than 747,000 ambulance calls – an average of more than 2,000 calls per day. “Whenever we receive a call, we are prepared and always ready and willing to serve the community,” stresses Wong.
Rescue operators wanted for the Hong Kong Fire Services Department’s specialised diving unit
Carrying out a search and rescue mission several metres below sea level amid murky waters and a churning current requires a cool head, a high level of training and absolute dedication. This is precisely the type of situation the Diving Unit of the Hong Kong Fire Services Department (FSD) prepares for.
People usually imagine the FSD using water to put fires out, but Tam Hoi-fai, senior station officer at the diving unit, says the team engages in water-related rescue activities in many different ways. “Our diving unit is on call to assist sunken vessels, fires on board ships and people lost at sea,” Tam says. It also carries out rescue operations using compressed air in Hong Kong’s labyrinth of underground tunnels.
To join the unit, firefighters must complete a three-year probation period at a local station. They must also complete a medical and fitness test, which includes swimming 500 metres in 12 minutes, holding their breath while swimming 25 metres underwater and duck-diving while wearing a 4.5kg weight belt. Those admitted to the unit undergo basic training for seven weeks. All FSD firefighters undergo personal survival training with the dive unit in case they fall in to water while wearing their heavy protective clothing.
Tam says the diving unit, which has about 100 fully qualified divers, looks for individuals with confidence and determination, who are committed team players and have good communication skills. “You cannot coordinate a marine rescue operation using WeChat,” Tam says.
With Hong Kong having some of the busiest shipping lanes in Asia, the diving unit needs to be prepared for the worst case scenario. It was the FSD who led the rescue operation that pulled 123 people from the sea near Lamma Island in 2012, when a ferry and a Hongkong Electric Company passenger boat collided, claiming 36 lives. At times like these, Tam says, FSD divers need to employ communication skills and display empathy for those in distress, while maintaining professionalism.
For firefighter and diver Chan Ka-chun, being a fireman and a diver in the unit is the ideal career. “I have always enjoyed water sports and I have always wanted to be a fireman,” Chan says. Unlike recreational diving, which usually takes place in calm waters with good visibility, Chan says FSD divers train to work in unpredictable and dangerous conditions. At the unit’s Stonecutters Island base, a simulation pool can generate typhoon-like conditions. Underpinning the unit’s camaraderie, Chan says they not only train and work as a team, but also socialise and carry out volunteer work together. “We share a close bond,” he says.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as All fired up.