REVIEW OF SCDF TRAINING IN WAKE OF RECENT PASSING OF NSF FIREFIGHTER
SCDF SGT1 (NS) Edward Go’s demise whilst firefighting on 8 Dec 2022 was a profoundly sad day for not just his family members but all Singaporeans. I sought from the Minister for Home Affairs details about the challenges experienced during the firefighting operation and the kind of training these officers get to handle such operations. My PQ and the answers provided by Assoc Prof Dr Muhd Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State for Home Affairs may be accessed below.
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Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what were the challenges experienced during the firefighting operation on 8 December 2022 which resulted in the passing of an SCDF NSF firefighter; and (b) how does SCDF ensure that its frontline officers are adequately trained and equipped to carry out their duties safely and effectively.
The Minister of State for Home Affairs (Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim) (for the Minister for Home Affairs): Mr Speaker, Sir, my response will also cover the matters raised in the question by Mr Gerald Giam which is scheduled for a subsequent Sitting. I invite the Member to seek clarifications, if need be. If the Member’s questions have been addressed, it may not be necessary for the Member to proceed with his question at the subsequent Sitting.
Mr Speaker: Please proceed.
Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim: The safety of all Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) personnel is of utmost importance to the Home Team.
To be deployed as firefighters, NSFs need to be certified medically fit and of Physical Employment Standards (PES) “A”, “B1” or “B2”. They will also need to complete a four-week Basic Rescue Training as well as a 12-week Firefighter Course (FFC) at the Civil Defence Academy (CDA).
The FFC includes both theoretical and practical components, and a series of proficiency and certification tests. These include the Individual Physical Proficiency Test, Breathing Apparatus Proficiency Test, Hazmat Responder Certification Test, Firemanship Skills Assessment and a written test on basic firemanship, rescue and equipment knowledge. In addition to the skills taught in the FFC, Regular Servicemen and NSFs who are appointed to leadership roles will undergo a Section Commander or Rota Commander Course, which trains them to lead a section comprising three to four personnel, or a Rota which is a duty shift comprising several sections.
Firefighting training at the CDA is conducted with “live” fire simulators to provide realism, so that trainees gain experience operating in conditions similar to real-life firefighting. SCDF has protocols to ensure that the training curriculum is reviewed regularly to ensure currency.
After graduating from the CDA, training continues to be an integral part of a firefighter’s daily routine, including NSF firefighters. Firefighters undergo exercises and drills during each shift, to familiarise themselves with their respective roles and functions as part of a crew, as well as to maintain individual fitness and competencies. They must also undergo annual proficiency tests conducted by CDA to ensure that their skills and fitness levels meet the required standards.
In a fire emergency, NSF firefighters and NSF section commanders are deployed alongside Regular Servicemen in a section. NSmen and Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit (CDAU) volunteer firefighters may also be deployed within the section.
Depending on the scale of the emergency, the taskforce that is activated may comprise several sections. The taskforce is led by a ground commander, who is responsible for leading the operation. The ground commander will monitor and direct the operation, and request for more resources as reinforcement, if necessary.
All firefighting Personal Protective Equipment used by SCDF are certified according to relevant international standards such as the American National Fire Protection Association standards and European standards.
Mr Murali Pillai asked about the challenges experienced by the SCDF during the firefighting operation on 8 December 2022. While responding to the incident, the SCDF officers found the fire engine accessway leading to Block 91 Henderson Road obstructed by a tent where a funeral wake was being held. The officers removed the bollards that were padlocked to the ground near the tentage to create an access path. This delayed their arrival by 18 minutes.
Based on the ground commander’s assessment of the resources needed for the operation, 22 emergency vehicles and 61 responders from six fire stations were deployed to the incident. About 40% of the responders were National Servicemen — meaning the majority, 60% of the responders were Regular Officers.
The passing of SGT1 Edward Go is the first SCDF fatality in a firefighting operation. The Police are currently conducting an independent, thorough investigation into the circumstances of SGT1 Edward’s demise and will apprise the Coroner of its findings. At this stage, it is premature to determine the factors which contributed to SGT1 Edward’s death. The Coroner will consider the Police’s investigation findings, in determining the cause of death. Due to the ongoing investigations, we are unable to share further details at this stage.
SCDF will seek to understand what had 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.
Mr Speaker: Mr Murali Pillai.
Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok): Mr Speaker, Sir, with your indulgence, I am sure hon Members of this House would join me to express our profound sadness over the demise of SGT1 Edward Go in the line of duty in his efforts to keep Singapore safe and secure. And I hope that the family of SGT1 Edward Go would be supported while they come to terms with their loss and in time, heal.
My question for the hon Minister of State is in relation to the deployment of NSmen. The Minister of State mentioned that the ratio of NSmen deployment for that particular incident was 40:60, where 60% were Regulars. Having regard to the fact that NSmen generally have less experience than Regulars, may I ask whether there is a certain strategy to better protect NSmen?
And in respect of SGT1 Edward Go, I understand that investigations are ongoing but would the hon Minister of State reveal the extent of training that he had for the incident that he was called to fight?
Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim: Sir, I thank the Member for the supplementary question. An NSF’s journey with SCDF starts from his enlistment into the SCDF where he receives basic and subsequently, vocational training appropriate for his PES condition. So, at the start of his enlistment, we already looked at it on how that journey is going to be.
NSFs who are assigned in the operational roles, as I shared earlier, are given robust and realistic training. They also use proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and equipment that are common to their fire station. From their time in the CDA, their instructors will closely monitor them and look at their progress and help build their confidence. The relationship, the camaraderie and peer support are also vital parts of the culture and overall journey. In fact, I visit SCDF fire stations as well as some of the set-ups regularly, and this is something I have noticed. The peer support, the relationship and that journey that someone goes through — whether for NSFs or Regulars — are so important. The juniors will look up to the seniors, not only between the Regulars and the NSFs, but also between the NSFs together, they look up to their seniors and they want to see how they can play their part.
After posting to a fire station, they will be assigned support appliances. They will not straightaway go to the frontline, as in fight the fire. This is the opportunity to give them the time to settle down and get to know their Rota. During this time, their supervisors will observe the NSFs in the daily shifts, watch them perform during drills and training to assess their suitability, competency and confidence to be placed on turn-out, on the main fire engines and Red Rhinos. This is where they are most likely to be on-scene, earlier than the rest.
We also look at the composition of the crew, where we carefully balance it. The supervisor will ensure that there is a good mix of experienced and seniority, while still giving NSF firefighters the opportunity to grow from accumulating turn-out experience.
Indeed, just like many of the vocations which require practical 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. So, we ensure training they receive, the PPE they wear and the colleagues they turn out with.
Like I shared earlier, this is something which is very obvious when you speak to them and when you talk to them about operations. This is something that we are very proud of in our SCDF officers.
With regard to the late SGT1 Edward Go, this is something that I would like to share, even though the investigations are ongoing. Like what the Member shared earlier, we feel the loss of the late SGT Edward. Just like the rest, all NSFs need to be certified medically fit and complete the relevant training and courses, prior to deployment at the frontline. During his training as a firefighter, SGT1 Edward Go attained “Gold”: standard for his individual Physical Proficiency Test and faired well in the other mandatory course requirements, including achieving an “A” grading for his Breathing Apparatus Proficiency Test. His performance, in fact, was among the top 25% in his cohort. Like the rest, he would go through the journey like any other SCDF NSF. In fact, when he was posted to the Central Fire Station in May 2022, he had attended nearly 60 fire and rescue calls. So, he was an officer with some level of experience as well.