“Regardless of the pain, we just focused on the job,” one Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer said during an informal chat with the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr S Iswaran.
The officer and several other fire-fighters and Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) specialists were gathered in a tight circle around Mr Iswaran who is also the Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry.
“What was the most difficult thing about the operation? What was the most challenging part for a fire of this scale?” Mr Iswaran asked.
The men shared how difficult it was manoeuvring through thick, black smoke in the burning basement of East Village Hotel and the dangers and uncertainty of accessing the seat of the fire quickly.
One DART specialist could not move his fingers for days after wading through waist-deep wet cement to find two missing workers under the rubble of collapsed scaffolding at the Bugis Downtown Line (DTL) construction site.
These 120 officers’ rescue efforts were commended by the Second Minister at a special private event held at the SCDF Senior Officer and Junior Officer (SOJO) Mess on the evening of 27 July 2012.
The event was held in appreciation of the rescue and recovery efforts during the East Village Hotel fire and the DTL scaffolding collapse incident where 11 officers were injured.
As rescue personnel, during informal chats with the Minister, described how they overcame the challenges they faced during the incidents, one thing was clear—their training prepared them well.
On 16 July 2012, the East Village Hotel in Marine Parade was engulfed by smoke from a fire that broke out in the basement of the building.
In all, 50 people were safely evacuated and 11, including two SCDF fire fighters, were sent to the Singapore General Hospital for treatment.
Just two days after the fire, temporary scaffolding used for the construction of a roof at the new Downtown Line (DTL) Bugis station construction site gave way killing two workers.
Nine DART officers sustained chemical burns on their arms, hands and lower parts of their bodies caused by elements in the wet cement they waded through to search for two missing workers.
Addressing the officers, Mr Iswaran expressed sadness over the tragic loss of the construction workers’ lives.
| Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry, Mr S Iswaran, addresses the fire-fighters and Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) specialists who were gathered for this private Appreciation Reception on 27 July 2012. PHOTO: Matthew Wong|
However, he shared how honoured he felt to be there among people who had risked their own lives to tackle the incidents.
“To me, what the two incidents brought across were two or three very important messages. Firstly, your operating environment is a very challenging one. The nature of your operating environment is very unpredictable and presents a different set of challenges every time,” said the Minister.
“It calls all your skills and training to solve the problems and save lives. Your professionalism, your training, your commitment to the job came through very clearly.”
Acknowledging the “dangerous nature of the work”, given how the two workers had lost their lives and SCDF’s own officers were injured, he applauded the courage and conviction the officers showed.
| Major (MAJ) Chong Wei (extreme left), Commander of Changi Fire Station, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Wesley Ho (second from left) Commander of Central Fire Station, and MAJ Tan Teck Ming (third from left), Commander of Tampines Fire Station shared with Second Minister S Iswaran (second from right) their experiences while on the rescue mission at the East village Fire. PHOTO: Matthew Wong |
Inspired by the strong sense of mission the SCDF fire-fighting and rescue teams had upheld, Mr Iswaran said he had wanted to come down to personally thank all of them for all their hard work.
“It takes courage and conviction to take on a task like this,” said Mr Iswaran.
Commander for Changi Fire Station, Major Chong Wei was heartened by the encouragements from the Minister.
“The question he asked was very relevant because most people will not ask what type of risks we faced. The Minister coming down here is a good enough recognition for us,” shared Major Chong.