Relations between police and the fire service hit a new low over the weekend when officers from both departments traded insults at an anti-government protest in Hong Kong.
Senior management were forced to intervene for the second time in a week, releasing a joint statement to defuse tensions between emergency service personnel after a row broke out in public while demonstrators were being dispersed on Friday night in Tuen Mun.
During the exchanges, a police officer was called a “crook” by a paramedic, who serves under the fire service, after the ambulance worker believed he had been branded incompetent by riot police.
The joint statement from police and the Fire Services Department said they had investigated the incident and found both groups were under “tremendous stress upon working under such chaotic conditions”.
“The management recognised the situation and expressed their understanding and concerns,” the statement read.
“With immediate communication among the senior management, the supervising officers and frontline staff of both departments, a mutual understanding was reached and the incident has been properly handled.”
The statement said both departments would continue to support staff to “avoid the recurrence of unpleasant incidents”.
It is the second joint statement issued within a week relating to the outbreak of angry exchanges between frontline personnel from the two services, after a tear-gas canister struck a fire engine.
The heated argument took place in Tuen Mun on Friday night when protesters set roadblocks and started fires in a display of anger over the death of an undergraduate at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Chow Tsz-lok, who reportedly fell from the third to the second floor of a car park in Tseung Kwan O on Monday.
While riot police were dispersing the crowds on Friday, paramedics arrived at the scene responding to reports of injuries.
News footage showed that police officers challenged a paramedic, accusing him of suggesting that reporters cover a particular scene at the protest.
A police officer shouted: “You can carry out your duty but why do you call reporters? I will inform the director of fire services. Do you understand?
“Otherwise I will request your supervisor to change your staff. That’s all.”
Another officer said no one had been injured, questioning why the paramedic was in the area.
The paramedic replied: “Don’t be a crook. Someone said he was sick.”
It quickly descended into a fierce verbal exchange, with one police officer telling the group of paramedics: “No one said you were rubbish. You can just leave.”
The two departments said in their statement they would continue dealing with ongoing incidents with mutual understanding, support and cooperation, in the hope of restoring social stability to Hong Kong as soon as possible.
Last Saturday, a firefighter was involved in a confrontation with riot control officers in Central, after a tear gas round fired by the force accidentally hit a fire engine during a crowd dispersal operation. A foul-mouthed verbal exchange escalated when police jostled the firefighter.
A day later, 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”.
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