App homing in on distressed hikers and rescue teams nears completion

The Fire Services Department will launch an app this year that will enable field commanders to know the real-time location of rescuers and the whereabouts of trapped hikers.

This will facilitate rescue missions and manpower deployment, it said.

Hongkongers hiked more often amid the pandemic and firemen carried out 1,014 rescues in 2022. Hiking-related casualties also rose to 21 last year from 14 in 2021, according to the department.

The pandemic also saw more calls to the department and longer time taken by ambulance to respond to them.

Over 2,700 calls were received daily during the fifth wave of outbreaks in March, half of which were related to Covid. The time needed for an ambulance to respond increased by 1.5 to two times.

The situation was complicated by a shortfall in manpower due to infection or quarantine. Over 880 officers, about a fourth of the establishment, had to go on leave because of that.

As a result, 12 percent of the 700,000 emergency calls did not get the rescue services within 12 minutes as promised. That was 1.7 percentage points below that of the year before.

The department's stated target is to respond to 92.5 percent of all emergency calls within 12 minutes.

Fire services director Andy Yeung Yan-kin blamed a shortage in medical resources and a record high in daily cases for the delay.

Yeung said ambulances had to be sanitized each time after they were dispatched because they did not know whether the victims were infected or not. He added: "Therefore, during the fifth wave of outbreaks, fewer ambulances could be deployed."

The department handled a total of 740,000 calls last year, a drop of 3.3 percent from that of 2021. About 35,000 of them were related to fire and the rest related to other emergencies.

Compared to 2021, the number of fire calls fell by 2.6 percent.

In 2022, the department also transported more than 200,000 infected patients to quarantine facilities while helping the Hospital Authority and other medical service providers send around 10,000 patients to and from quarantine facilities, holding centers and residential care homes.

Yeung said his department plans to recruit 771 firemen and ambulancemen this year. This comes after the department was only able to hire 53 recruits despite a target of recruiting 119.