Sengkang flat fire: Neighbours used crowbar to open gate, tried to rouse family of five inside

Christine Tan and Suzanne Chan
The Straits Times
July 19, 2023

When they realised that their neighbours’ flat was on fire, a couple in the construction business grabbed a crowbar and tried to prise open the metal gate.

The quick-thinking duo also worked with other neighbours to try to turn off the gas and electricity supply to the unit.

And even as thick black smoke was pouring out of the flat, the neighbours continued knocking on the door, hoping to wake the occupants.

Fortunately, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) firefighters arrived to rescue the family of five.

The fire, which broke out in the unit on the fourth storey of Block 280B Sengkang East Avenue, happened at around 2.45am on Wednesday.

The couple in the construction business, who wanted to be known only as Mr and Mrs Ong, aged 40 and 50 respectively, live opposite the burning unit occupied by a couple, their 12-year-old daughter and two sons aged nine and two.

Mrs Ong said she, her husband and their four children were asleep when the doorbell rang. It was their neighbours from the fifth storey, Mr and Mrs Siahaan, who were alerting residents to the fire.

Mr Ong grabbed the crowbar from his flat and tried to prise open the metal gate of the burning unit.

His wife said: “We also tried to turn off the gas and electricity supply, as we were scared there would be an explosion.”

Just as Mr Ong was about to prise open the gate, SCDF firefighters arrived and used cutting tools to gain access to the flat.

They extinguished the fire with a water jet and rescued the family, who were inside one of the bedrooms.

The family were taken to the Singapore General Hospital for smoke inhalation. One of the adults also suffered minor burn injuries, said the SCDF.

Mrs Siahaan, 36, had called 995 after hearing someone screaming and the sound of glass breaking. She looked out of her kitchen window and saw smoke pouring out of the fourth-storey unit.

Mr Siahaan said he and his wife, together with the Ongs, removed a shoe rack blocking the electrical riser, and the four of them continually banged on the door of the burning unit, hoping to alert their neighbours to the fire.

But there was no response.

Mr Siahaan, 38, who works in IT sales, said: “I was worried they might have fainted.”

About 50 residents were evacuated by the SCDF and the police.

When The Straits Times arrived at 10.30am, staff from Sengkang Town Council and SCDF investigators were at the unit. Soot marks covered the wall above the front door.

One resident, a 37-year-old woman who wanted to be known only as Mrs Tan, said she was woken by the sound of glass shattering.

Seeing thick black smoke entering their open windows, Mrs Tan quickly woke her family and ran downstairs with them.

Said Mrs Tan, who works in the insurance industry: “I heard (the family in the affected unit) shouting for help, and I was shouting back at them to tell them help was on the way. They were panicking, and so was I.”

Mr Ong said he returned to his unit later to see to his pet birds, and saw his neighbour emerging from the fire-hit unit, covered in soot.

“His face was bloody,” he added.

Bloodstains were found on the window ledge of the affected fourth-floor unit. PHOTO: MRS TAN

Mrs Ong said she later saw the woman from the unit covered in soot and asked her if her family was all right. “She couldn’t breathe well, but said everything was okay. When I asked if her children were out of the flat, she pointed to the ambulance.”

Mrs Ong said the family in the affected unit had moved in around three years ago, and they would exchange the occasional greeting.

SCDF said preliminary investigations indicated the fire in the kitchen was likely of electrical origin.

The commander of Sengkang Fire Station, Major Othman Sharif, told ST: “In a fire-and-rescue situation, time is of the essence, and we had to act fast. Our priority was to save the lives of the occupants, knowing they were trapped in the unit.

“We found five occupants in one of the bedrooms and rescued them from the unit while the firefighting was ongoing.”

Mrs Ong said it was only natural for them to help their neighbours.

She said: “If this had happened to us, we would also hope others would try to help us and our family. We treat others like how we want to be treated.”

The Straits Times

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.