The history of the Hong Kong Fire Services began with the following announcement in the Hong Kong Government Gazette dated 9th May 1868:

It shall be lawful for the Governor to select from the Police and any others volunteering for the duty a force to whom shall be entrusted the duty of extinguishing fire and protecting lives and properties in case of fire within this colony and to furnish the said force with such fire engines, hoses, accoutrements, tools and complements may be necessary for complete equipment for the said force or conducive to the efficient performance of their duties. The Force of Firemen established under this ordinance shall be called the Hong Kong Fire Brigade and shall be under the command of an officer to be called the Superintendent of the Hong Kong Fire Brigade …”

The ensuing course of the legislative action for the establishment of the Hong Kong Fire Brigade was not recorded. When the bill was passed, Mr. Charles May was appointed the Superintendent of the Hong Kong Fire Brigade, in addition to his duties as the head of Police and the Goal of Victoria.

Pre-war Fire Brigade

Pre-war Fire Brigade

At that time, the Brigade had a total strength of 62 with a supplement of about 100 Chinese volunteers. The establishment was as follows :

1 Superintendent
1 Assistant Superintendent
2 Foremen
4 Assistant Foremen
54 Firemen (expatriate)
100 Volunteers (local)

The Brigade had gradually expanded to 140 regular members of all ranks in 1921 and 174 in 1922. In those days the volunteers or the Auxiliary Fire Services played a very important role in the fire-fighting operations.

The development of the Brigade was halted as a result of the Japanese Occupation during which time both the equipment and manpower were lost. One remarkable event was that two American LaFrance fire engines were removed to Tokyo to form part of the Imperial Palace Fire Unit in Japan. It was only at the end of the World War II that those two engines were returned to Hong Kong.

After the war, the influx of people from Mainland China had worsened the social and economic conditions in Hong Kong. In 1949, the population reached one million. Although new fire stations were put into operation between 1946 and 1956, it could still not cope with the demand.

An open type Pump Escape (1957 model)  mounted with an 18m manual wheeled escape ladder

An open type Pump Escape (1957 model)
mounted with an 18m manual wheeled escape ladder

Ambulance services formed part of the Brigade since 1914. By 1 July 1953, all government ambulance resources were placed under the control of the Fire Brigade.

Austin LD3 Ambulance

Austin LD3 Ambulance

Prior to 1953, emergency ambulance service was provided by the Fire Brigade while non-emergency ambulance service was provided by the then Medical Department.

On 1st July 1953, vehicles and personnel were transferred from the Medical Department to amalgamate with those of the Fire Brigade, which laid the foundation for the present Ambulance Command.

During the period 1960 to 1965, the Trench Report provided a basis for the development of the Ambulance Services. The subsequent developments and department reorganisation had made the Ambulance Services an independent unit, later called the Ambulance Command in 1970 and was headed by a Chief Ambulance Officer to provide a modern paramedic service.

In 1946, operational firemen worked 84 hours a week. Their weekly working hours were subsequently reduced by stages to 72 in 1967, 60 in 1980, 54 in 1990 and 51 in 2016. It is of interest to note that they used to work 144 hours a week prior to World War II – being on duty for 6 whole days with just 1 day off before switching to the 84-hour week in 1946.

In 1960, Deputy Colonial Secretary Mr. David Trench (later Governor) was appointed to look into the problem of the Fire Brigade. He worked with Mr. Ronald G. Cox, who was then the Deputy Chief Officer, to produce the Trench Report, which radically reorganised the brigade and changed its name to the Hong Kong Fire Services Department (The Chinese name of the Department had further been changed in July 1983). The report called for a 10-year phased development with provision of more small fire stations to reach a criterion of a six-minute attendance. It also recommended a substantial increase in manpower and fire appliances and the reduction in working hours for the operational firemen.

In 1961, Mr. William Gorman was appointed the first Director of Fire Services. Localisation of the Hong Kong Fire Services began in March 1966 and when the last expatriate serving officer retired from the Service on 1 July 1992, the Hong Kong Fire Services has become fully localised.

In 1968, the following echelons were operating within the Hong Kong Fire Services:

Fire Services Headquarters
Mainland Command (including Kowloon and the New Territories)
Hong Kong and Marine Command
Fire Prevention Command

In 1970, the Ambulance Division became an independent Command and the organisation of the Service was regrouped as:

Fire Services Headquarters
Fire Prevention Bureau
Hong Kong Island, Off-shore Islands and Marine Fire Command
Kowloon Fire Command
New Territories Fire Command
Ambulance Command

As fire fighting and rescue services increasingly required higher standard of professional knowledge and experience, the Auxiliary Fire Services which had done a tremendous job in the old days was disbanded in 1975. Nowadays, all fire fighters are professionally trained and working full time.

In 1949, a Fire Prevention and Inspection Branch was set up to deal with general fire safety matters. In 1970, the branch was re-organised and expanded into a Fire Prevention Bureau. The Bureau was later renamed as Fire Protection Bureau in 1980 and Fire Protection Command with effect from 1 August 1997. To cope with the ever-increasing commitments and rising expectations of the general public on fire safety, on 1 June 1999, the Fire Protection Command was further expanded and split into two Commands, namely the Licensing and Control Command (renamed as Licensing and Certification Command in April 2001) and the Fire Safety Command.

In the past, communication and mobilising of first line resources were achieved through a mobilising centre and station watchroom system. In 1980, these modes of operation were centralised in the Fire Services Communication Centre.

In April 1991, with the commissioning of the Second Generation Mobilising System (SGMS), the Fire Services Communications Centre was operated with a central computerised system which had maximised the efficiency of turn-outs to emergency services.

Work Stations of Second Generation Mobilizing System

Console of Second Generation Mobilizing System

The SGMS was replaced by the Third Generation Mobilising System (TGMS) in March 2005. The TGMS is a highly sophisticated and mission critical system which has greatly enhanced the mobilising efficiency of the Department through an accurate and efficient resources deployment to continue providing an efficient emergency service to the public of Hong Kong.

Console of the Third Generation Mobilising System

Console of the Third Generation Mobilizing System