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Home / People / HT Officers / Commander Spotlight: At the Heart of Emergency Preparedness  
Published: 25 Jul 2012 10:01AM (Singapore)
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Commander Spotlight: At the Heart of Emergency Preparedness
In our debut "Commander Spotlight" feature, former 3rd Civil Defence Division Commander Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) Abdul Razak Bin Abdul Raheem reflects about his SCDF experience.
By Win Kwang Siang Soon
LTC Abdul Razak inspecting the 3rd Division National Service Men at the ceremony. He thanks them for their commitment and the many experiences they have shared together during his time there. PHOTO: Chiez How

From grassroots leaders, residents and hundreds of officers within the 3rd Civil Defence Division, everyone present at the Change-of-Command Ceremony held at the Division HQ on 29 June 2012 was reminiscent of the productive community engagements and insightful personal encounters they have had with Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) Abdul Razak Bin Abdul Raheem when he was Commander of the Division.

Many grassroots leaders and volunteers wanted to personally thank LTC Abdul Razak, whom they endearingly referred to as “Colonel Razak”, for his dedicated work in engaging the communities within the constituencies that his division takes care of.

LTC Abdul Razak held the reins of the 3rd Civil Defence (CD) Division since June 2009 and was involved in numerous major operations such as the fire engulfing several double-decker buses in Ang Mo Kio Bus Depot and the prolonged overnight fire-fighting operation involving several hectares of dry vegetation along Tampines Road.

Under his leadership, the 3rd CD Division was entrusted with the task of contingency planning and managing SCDF standby operations for two international events Singapore hosted, namely the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 2009 meetings and the 2011 Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix at Marina Bay. 

LTC Abdul Razak officially assumed the post of Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Director of Public affairs on 1 July 2012 after serving as Commander of the 3rd CD Division for three years.

LTC Abdul Razak has been with the SCDF since 1995.

He is no stranger to the international arena where he is actively involved in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

He sits in the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM) as the Chairman of its Preparedness and Response Working Group and is also actively involved in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Inter-session Meeting on Disaster Relief.

The uniqueness of the 3rd Civil Defence Division

During an interview with Home Team News at the reception after the 3rd CD Division’s Change-of-Command Ceremony, LTC Abdul Razak spoke fondly of the creativity of his staff who have helped him make many significant changes to the division. One such development would be the Falconites Interface.

The Falconite Interface is a Facebook-like platform developed exclusively for officers of the 3rd CD Division.

This platform was the first of its kind in the frontline units of Civil Defence Force and opened up new possibilities for bonding within the division.

The word “Falconites” is used to describe the members of the 3rd CD Division because of the symbolic falcon on their division crest.

LTC Abdul Razak explained that in that platform, rank does not matter.

Officers and juniors can call each other by name and share their different interests or hobbies.

He recalled how he had learnt many things about his staff that he would not have learnt if the interface was not there.

He duly credits the effectiveness of the platform in building more lasting relationships beyond the confines of work.

Pausing at moments to look across the reception hall, proudly pointing out some of the young officers engaging in heartfelt conversations with guests as they ate, LTC Abdul Razak shared that setting up this exclusive online community also allowed him to reach out to the young national service men, a key target group that many other superiors may find difficulty reaching out due to the “generation gap”.

With the help of this online interface, he picked up many new, interesting things from these younger officers as well.

Reading some of the material that his young officers were sharing on the interface helped in his own love for music.

The sharing of music videos by his young officers allowed him to pick up new music genres and discuss trends and ideas with them.

However, the former Commander maintained that it was all back to business and operational discipline during work hours the next day.

He stressed that knowing when decorum and discipline should be applied is important for the effectiveness of a uniformed organization, especially at a frontline operation unit like the fire station.

The 3rd CD Division was also the first to introduce various pageants and competitions for their officers.

LTC Abdul Razak recalled the “Mr Falconites” event in particular, citing its unique criterion as an interesting twist to a typical pageant.

So how was “Mr Falconite” run?

The pageant is 3rd CD Division version of “Mr Universe” or “Manhunt”.

The difference, however, is that at the preliminary rounds, contestants will be tested on a series of issues including their inherent knowledge on fire fighting and fire science instead.

Another event LTC Abdul Razak endearingly remembered was the “Elite Fireman Challenge” organized in 2011 by Yishun Fire Station, one of the 3 fire stations under the command of 3rd CD Division.

It is a battle of fitness and agility where participants from the 3rd CD Division would gather and challenge themselves to a series of tough fire-fighting related obstacles.

The contestants would put themselves through these grueling tasks to earn pride and recognition as the elite fireman in the 3rd CD Division.

LTC Abdul Razak speaking to the 3rd Division during the Change of Command Ceremony on the 29th June 2012. Photo: Chiez How

Forging Bonds with past, present and the future Falconites.

As someone who cherishes team camaraderie, LTC Abdul Razak highlighted the need for commanders to always maintain warm relations with their officers.

One major internal event he believed would help with strengthening the bonds among the officers is the “Falconites Rendezvous”, the signature annual mass gathering of the Falconites that would be held on the 30 December for the alumni and current members of the division.

The main purpose for this event, he explained, was to give current and former members of the division a chance to come back and catch up with one another.

He let in too that many previous commanders of 3rd CD Division including himself would not miss this annual gathering among the Falconites.

However, LTC Abdul Razak recognised that bonding does not stop just there but has to continue all the time.

He believes that a leader has to know and recognise the various characteristics of the people serving under him and forge close, trusting bonds with his staff, in order to keep morale high and motivate them to produce the best results.

Apart from connecting with his officers, LTC Abdul Razak also believes strongly in the importance of forging strong ties with the communities the division serves.

His affinity for the residents’ volunteers and grassroots leaders was evident, as he stopped the interview at points to shake the hands of his well-wishers and engaged in conversations with young volunteers from the community.

Undoubtedly, the sense of kinship was mutual.

People interjecting just to share a quick laugh, families appearing in full force to express their appreciation for the former Commander, the community and grassroots leaders’ fondness and reverence of the warm and earnest leader was simply palpable.

“This is his sister. And these are his parents, his aunt, brother-in-law,” LTC Abdul Razak would tell Home Team News, as he called out to volunteers by name.

Also remarkable was his close relationship with the Community Emergency and Engagement Committees (C2Es).

He felt that their role in emergency preparedness is instrumental to help residents deal with crises effectively, given that their role as first, civilian responders to a situation affects the end result greatly.

As such, he recognises that frontline commanders in the fire stations have to work closely with resident volunteers to help generate the best outcomes possible.

That’s why LTC Abdul Razak was determined to promote Emergency Preparedness (EP) awareness in the community through proactive community engagement.

LTC Razak shared that he frequently invited the C2Es to many mass functions that the 3rd CD Division has organised, and has always regarded them as part of the extended Falconites family.

“I believe the best way to know a person is through light-hearted moments. Therefore, we always make sure we invite the C2Es to our gathering to get to know them better,” said LTC Abdul Razak.

Describing how the C2Es have developed over the years, he complimented the resident volunteers drive and determination in planning EP projects which have increased in number almost readily over the years.

LTC Abdul Razak revealed how the increase in the number of youth clubs such as the National Civil Defence Cadet Corps and the Civil Defence Lionhearters’ Club has helped in their outreach efforts.

Noting how the increase in youth participation over the years has changed the “typical” crowd that are seen during EP day, he shared how he used to see more middle-aged people and seniors taking part in EP day drills in the past.

He observed that over the years, with more youth participation, the percentage of people from different age groups is now more balanced.

As such, LTC Razak highlighted that it is imperative for frontline commanders to not forget about these youths and instead, put in more effort to include them in EP day drills.

He further asserts his point that youths are the best ambassadors of the SCDF for the future because of their ability to influence their peers and family members.

He illustrated how the peers of these participating youths, on seeing how they can juggle school work and EP activities, would be convinced that they can do it too.

This peer-to-peer influence only helps draw in more youths to participate in EP initiatives.

In his usual jovial manner, the former Commander of 3rd CD Division then broke into a chuckle, jokingly adding that youths might not take the words of an old man like him seriously as they relate better to those of their same age.

LTC Abdul Razak(Right) with LTC Ling Young Ern, the latter whom he entrusts the 3rd Division to for the upcoming years. Photo: Chiez How

His personal insights on leadership

LTC Abdul Razak is no stranger to leadership.

Throughout his career, he has found himself in various positions of responsibility and firmly believes that subordinates under him must know why they need to complete certain tasks and not just be carrying out their tasks blindly in a “just do it” attitude.

“I have learnt, that a firm and effective leader can be a leader with a heart,” added by LTC Abdul Razak.

Explaining how though this might sound like an anti-thesis, he pointed out that it is actually a reflection of how leaders should treat their officers.

He quoted an example of a leader and his subordinates at the fire ground:

When a fireman makes a big mistake on the fire ground, the leader has to promptly step in to shout at or scold the person to make sure he is swiftly back on track as lives and properties are at stake.

However, that leader has to make sure he takes the time to come back to that individual and explain to him what he had done wrong.

In LTC Razak’s opinion, the leader has to close the loop instead of leaving it open because after the leader has reviewed the individual’s mistakes, that person would walk away appreciative of the fact that his leader remembered that he had scolded the individual and bothered to explain to him what he did wrong.

“That, to me, is a leader, who is firm with heart. A big problem with some people in a hierarchical uniformed organization is that they tend to punish or scold their subordinates too readily without reviewing the mistakes made by them. What they forget is that those under them are respectable human beings who must be treated as such. Respect cannot be forced upon simply by the rank on your epaulettes. Respect must be earned and can be earned through mutual respect,” shared LTC Razak.

The Road Ahead

With regards to his new post as SCDF Director of Public Affairs Department, LTC Abdul Razak highlighted the need to appreciate the change in the media landscape over the years.

He shared that the key factor of this change is the growth of social media which can be a blessing or a curse for public relations practitioners.

He pointed out that the growing trend of social media has changed the rules of the game (Media relations), because it has blurred the line between internal and public communications.

LTC Abdul Razak also mentioned the difficulties his fire fighters faced when they arrived on the scene to a crowd of people filming their actions with smart phones.

Elaborating further, he talked of how his officers were getting more stressed on the fire ground when they knew that their actions were scrutinized not only by people at the scene, but by the online community as well.

To mitigate that, LTC Abdul Razak would always tell his men to ignore whatever online debate that might happen after and simply focus on the job.

After all, in his opinion, if a fireman is doing a good thing and doing it right, why should he be afraid of the perceived negative repercussions to his actions?

He also pointed out how incorrect assumptions and differing perceptions can give rise to unwarranted criticisms by online netizens who do not know the full extent of the situation.

LTC Abdul Razak illustrated this with another fire ground example.

“Sometimes, people may think a fire fighter is moving too slowly on the ground and attribute that to them simply being lazy. However, what they do not know is that these men, who are encased in thick protective suits and tugged with the heavyweight breathing apparatus cylinders, need to conserve their energy or they might risk burning out before they can complete their task,” explained LTC Abdul Razak.

He then mentioned that it is therefore important for the SCDF media officers to explain such things to the public, to put things in perspectives and prevent misunderstandings from arising.

LTC Abdul Razak concludes that without media officers, more problems can arise in the “court of public opinion” where people tend to be found guilty until proven innocent.

Still, despite the challenges social media creates, LTC Abdul Razak believes that the SCDF has taken a step in the right direction by embracing social media instead of shunning it because it has the immense power to promote the Civil Defence Force and Community Emergency Preparedness more effectively than say the traditional print and broadcast media.

Therefore, his first goal as Director of Public Affairs is to further utilize this real time platform more optimally both in SCDF community outreach programmes as well as in public communication during crisis.

LTC Abdul Razak ended his time at the 3rd CD Division on a high note, knowing that he has made a significant contribution to the division and impacted the lives of his men, many of whom he thanks dearly for the indelible cherished memories they have given him.
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