Henderson Road blaze: SCDF was delayed 18 minutes due to obstruction by funeral wake tent

Kok Yufeng
The Straits Times
Jan 9, 2022

The 19-year-old full-time national serviceman (NSF) who died after battling a blaze in a rental flat in Henderson Road in December 2022 was a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer with “some level of experience”, and his performance as a trainee put him among the top 25 per cent of his cohort.

Sergeant (1) Edward H. Go attained a gold standard in his Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) and an A grade in his Breathing Apparatus Proficiency Test – both of which are tests all NSFs must go through before they can be deployed as firefighters.

Sgt (1) Go, who was the first person from the SCDF to have died during an operation, also fared well in other mandatory course requirements and attended to nearly 60 fire and rescue calls after he was posted to the Central Fire Station in May 2022, Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said on Monday, in response to questions filed by Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) and Workers’ Party MP Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC).

Dr Faishal also revealed that 40 per cent of the responders who were deployed to the fire at Block 91 Henderson Road on Dec 8, 2022, were national servicemen, with regular officers making up the remaining 60 per cent.

In all, 22 emergency vehicles and 61 responders from six fire stations were sent to fight the blaze raging in a two-room flat on the fourth storey of the block in Bukit Merah, after the SCDF was alerted to it at about 11.10am that day.

The arrival of SCDF officers at the scene was delayed by 18 minutes, said Dr Faishal, as the fire engine access way leading to the block was obstructed by a tent where a funeral wake was being held.

The officers had to remove bollards that were padlocked to the ground near the tent to create an access path, he added.

However, Dr Faishal said it would be premature to discuss the factors which contributed to SGT (1) Go’s death, and he was unable to share further details owing to ongoing investigations.

He said the police are conducting an independent probe into the circumstances of Sgt (1) Go’s death, and will apprise the coroner of their findings.

“SCDF will seek to understand what happened, including if standard operating procedures and protocols had been followed, and how these may need to be tightened to keep the officers as safe as possible when they serve our nation,” he said.

It was previously reported that Sgt (1) Go had fallen unconscious in the kitchen area of the flat while fighting the fire there, and he was taken out of the unit by his crew members, who tried to resuscitate him. He was later taken to Singapore General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

On Monday, Dr Faishal said all SCDF NSFs need to be certified medically fit and be categorised under the physical employment standard (PES) as PES A, B1 or B2 to be deployed as firefighters.

They also need to complete a four-week Basic Rescue Training course, as well as a 12-week Firefighter Course (FFC), held at the Civil Defence Academy (CDA). The FFC includes theoretical and practical components, and a series of proficiency and certification tests, including the IPPT, Breathing Apparatus Proficiency Test, Hazmat Responder Certification Test and Firemanship Skills Assessment.

SCDF NSFs assigned to operational roles are given robust and realistic training, and use proper personal protective equipment (PPE). All firefighting PPE used by SCDF is certified according to relevant international standards.

Firefighting training at the CDA is conducted with live fire simulators to provide realism, and the SCDF has protocols to ensure that the training curriculum is reviewed regularly to ensure currency, Dr Faishal added.

Firefighters must also undergo annual proficiency tests to ensure that their skills and fitness levels meet the required standards.

Dr Faishal said NSF firefighters do not go to the front line immediately after they are posted to their respective fire stations. Instead, they are given time to settle down and get to know their colleagues, while supervisors at the station observe them to assess their suitability for deployment, and their competency and confidence.

In response to further questions from Mr Murali about ways to better protect national servicemen who are less experienced, Dr Faishal said the composition of firefighting crews is carefully balanced to ensure a good mix of experience and seniority, while still giving NSF firefighters the opportunity to accumulate experience.

“The only way for all firefighting personnel, whether regular or NSF, to build their experience is on-the-job training. This takes place under close supervision, with multiple layers of safety,” he said.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) highlighted a recent spate of fires at public rental blocks and asked if there were any design gaps that made such blocks more prone to fires.

In response, Dr Faishal said all Housing Board buildings are compliant with the prevailing fire code at the time they were built or renovated, and although some rental blocks may be more densely occupied, this does not compromise compliance.

For Block 91 Henderson Road, the fire engine access roads meet the requirement of being within 18m of a dry riser breeching inlet, which is where water is pumped in so it can be transported to the rest of the building.

The width of the corridors at the common areas in Block 91 is also up to code, Dr Faishal added.

Responding to a question from Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) about whether there will be a coroner’s inquiry held in open court, Dr Faishal said this will be done if the state coroner considers it necessary.

“We will see how the police investigations go, so I will not make any assumptions or speculation... Nevertheless, I assure the members that we are going to do a thorough and proper investigation,” he said.

It was previously reported that Sgt (1) Go was certified medically fit before his enlistment and categorised as PES A. Servicemen under this category are considered suitable for front-line operational vocations.

The NSF had enlisted in the SCDF on Jan 5, 2022, and had aspirations to enrol in medical school upon completing his national service. After enlisting, he trained as a firefighter for 12 weeks, from Feb 3 until April 28. He was posted to the Central Fire Station on May 4.

He was part of the first response crew for the fire incident on Dec 8, 2022, SCDF had said previously.

The Straits Times

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