KOTA KINABALU: Sabah politicians are unhappy with the fire department’s answers over the delay in its response to a deadly fire in Penampang near here which claimed the lives of a family of four last week.
Sabah Pakatan Harapan Youth chief Phoong Jin Zhe and Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) deputy president Edward Dagul said there were inconsistencies in the department’s reply.
The fire department had revealed that its men arrived late on the scene because one of the callers gave the wrong address and not because of a problem with the “call routing” of the emergency response system.
This follows claims that firefighters had lost precious seconds in responding to the blaze that killed the family last Tuesday as the distress call had to be routed to the peninsula first under the Malaysian Emergency Response Services (MERS999) system.
The fire claimed the lives of Matthew Wong, 50, his wife Jecky Vun Kon Fung, 48, and their sons Brendan, 18, and Eric, 15.
Phoong, who is Luyang assemblyman, said a neighbour of the family known as Chai had reached out to him to address the allegation that a wrong address had been provided, claiming it was not true.
Phoong added that another neighbour known as Angel had told a local daily the same thing.
“After hearing further from Chai, I demand that the federal housing and local government ministry conduct an investigation and give an explanation in the current sitting of Parliament about the tragedy, in order to reveal the truth and deliver justice to the deceased,” he said in a statement.
He also seconded calls by leaders, such as chief minister Hajiji Noor and state opposition leader Shafie Apdal to reform and decentralise the emergency call system.
Meanwhile, Dagul found the inconsistent responses from the fire department “disturbing”. He said the department should come clean and admit if there were weaknesses in the MERS999 system as a whole.
“The public deserves to know the truth as to what happened on that fateful day and why the fire department failed to disclose that there were also numerous calls made directly to the Penampang and Sembulan fire stations.
“After all, the Penampang fire station is only more or less one kilometre from the fire scene,” he said in a statement.
Earlier, expressing the department’s condolences over the deaths, Sabah fire and rescue department director Md Ali Ismail had said minutes were lost after the firefighters from the Penampang station missed the location as a result of the inaccurate information provided by the caller.
Ali said the fire started at around 2.30am and the firemen arrived at the scene at 3.04am.
The delay was caused because the firemen followed the printed call sheet containing the inaccurate address, he said.
Explaining how information on the fire was channelled, Ali said the MERS999 call centre in Melaka was the one that actually received the call, with four calls routed to the centre. The first was recorded at 2:49:01am and the second at 2:49:02am.
He said there were three call centres nationwide – in Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Kuching – to which emergency calls made through 999 would be routed.
Responding to this, Dagul said the actual caller had in a local paper yesterday disputed the call times disclosed by the department.
“It is equally disturbing to read in the papers that information was initially withheld from the public, citing that the time of the fire team’s arrival at the scene was ‘rahsia’ (secret).
“What was so confidential that the department had refused to volunteer such information?”
Dagul stressed that a proper review of the department’s standard operating procedure was needed, adding it should start with an in-depth fact-finding investigation regarding this case.