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Monday, Sep 28, 2020

Hong Kong protests: police, fire services release joint statement on ‘misunderstanding’ that led to clash during crowd dispersal in Central on Saturday

Statement says a ‘misunderstanding in the verbal communication’ led to the clash in which a firefighter was pushed and cornered by riot police. Representatives from firemen’s unions hoped such incidents would not happen again in the future

Police and the Fire Services Department released a joint statement early on Sunday morning to clarify the clash between a firefighter and riot control officers in Central on Saturday when a tear gas shot by the force accidentally hit a fire truck during a crowd dispersal operation.

The clash started with a verbal duel between the two sides, after which police pushed and surrounded the firefighter.

At around 2am on Sunday, police and the Fire Services Department issued a joint statement about the incident, saying “there was [a] misunderstanding in the verbal communication between both sides”.

According to the statement, the fire service vehicle was accidentally hit by a tear gas round when police were dispersing protesters from Connaught Road in Central at around 7.30pm on Saturday. Tear gas soon spread through the truck’s cabin and affected the firefighter inside. The firefighter then got off the truck to express his dissatisfaction at police.

The statement said that police and the Fire Services Department had communicated with each other on the incident. They have explained to each other the working conditions of their frontline officers. “Both sides also expressed mutual understanding and respect for each other’s work and will continue to work together in the future to stamp out violence,” it said.

Two news clips recorded on Saturday evening in Central showed that the firefighter, wearing a blue shirt and without any protective gear, was arguing with around 10 riot police officers on why the vehicle had been hit with tear gas. Police explained that they were just dispersing the protesters.

“There was no need to tear gas my truck,” the firefighter said.

Trying to comfort him, a riot police officer said: “We could not see [your vehicle].”

But another police officer suddenly got angry and shouted at the firefighter, using foul language. The firefighter shouted back. Soon, the group of police officers surrounded the firefighter and pushed him to a corner.

Police also used pepper spray to disperse reporters who were recording the scene. The journalists were condemned as “black reporters”.

Representatives from two firemen’s unions on Sunday agreed with the joint statement and hoped such incidents could be avoided in the future.

“I believe what happened yesterday [Saturday] was a one-off incident,” Lee Wai-hau, chairman of the Hong Kong Fire Services Department Ambulancemen’s Union, said.

“I believe police will be more careful [when deploying tear gas] in the future. I hope it will never happen again.”

Tse Hok-chung, chairman of the Hong Kong Fire Services Department Staffs General Association, refuted online rumours that claimed the firefighter had been beaten up and arrested by police. “He was not beaten up. He went back to the department after the incident,” he said.

Tse said he found from the video clips that both sides had used profanities while arguing. “I could not figure out how it got into pushing and surrounding because the scene was too chaotic,” he said. “We are talking to our colleague to follow up on this.”

He added that firefighters often found themselves caught in tricky situations between demonstrators and police while dousing the flames during the protests.

“Whenever protesters set a fire or throw a petrol bomb, we rush to extinguish it. But at the same place, police officers are also busy dispersing crowds.”

He hoped there would be more coordination between police and the firefighters.

In early October, a group claiming to represent protesters had said about 200 Hong Kong fire services officers had joined an anonymous petition condemning their bosses and union for “blindly supporting” police’s handling of the protests.
The Post was not able to independently verify the petition.

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