Free repairs for fire victims' flats

(Right) Mr Tan Kong Lam, 55, his son Tan Wee Kuan, 23, and his wife Foo Siu Chin, 56, in one of the bedrooms of their refurbished flat at Block 33 Jalan Bahagia. The flat was badly damaged (above) by a fire three weeks ago.
(Right) Mr Tan Kong Lam, 55, his son Tan Wee Kuan, 23, and his wife Foo Siu Chin, 56, in one of the bedrooms of their refurbished flat at Block 33 Jalan Bahagia. The flat was badly damaged (above) by a fire three weeks ago.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF TAN WEE KUAN, NG SOR LUAN
(Right) Mr Tan Kong Lam, 55, his son Tan Wee Kuan, 23, and his wife Foo Siu Chin, 56, in one of the bedrooms of their refurbished flat at Block 33 Jalan Bahagia. The flat was badly damaged (above) by a fire three weeks ago.
(Right) Mr Tan Kong Lam, 55, his son Tan Wee Kuan, 23, and his wife Foo Siu Chin, 56, in one of the bedrooms of their refurbished flat at Block 33 Jalan Bahagia. The flat was badly damaged (above) by a fire three weeks ago.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF TAN WEE KUAN, NG SOR LUAN

Construction firm says it is 'a small way of giving back to community'

When retiree Tan Kong Lam watched his three-room Whampoa flat of more than 20 years go up in smoke three weeks ago, his heart sank.

"Almost everything - my bedroom, kitchen, living room - was damaged," said the 55-year-old former tailor.

But this week, his family will be returning to a flat where signs of the fire can hardly be seen - thanks to homegrown construction firm Lum Chang Building Contractors.

For the last two weeks, the company has been sending five to eight workers each day to re-tile, repair and paint all four affected flats at Block 33 Jalan Bahagia - for free. It declined to reveal how much it cost but the Tan family believed the refurbishing cost for their flat is at least $10,000.

A spokesman for Lum Chang said: "It's a small way of trying to give back to the community."

Mr Tan's 23-year-old son Wee Kuan, who works in customer service at Marina Bay Sands, is the single breadwinner for the family. Mr Tan's two daughters, aged 29 and 31, do not live with them.

According to the younger Mr Tan, the Feb 22 fire had started after 1am in the neighbouring flat, which was occupied by two men in their 40s and 60s. "The most important thing is that my parents ran out in time," he said.

Added his father, who was at home at the time with his wife Foo Siu Chin, 56: "We smelt plastic burning so we ran out of the flat and told our neighbours to leave."

There were no casualties and the fire was extinguished within 10 minutes by the Singapore Civil Defence Force, but the two flats were gutted and surroundings units were damaged. Investigations are ongoing.

The real shock came when Mr Tan returned to the flat after the fire was put out. "I even had to throw away my wedding photograph of over 30 years and old souvenirs because they were all burnt."

Then came the worry: How was he going to fix all the damage? He had not bought fire insurance, and had no savings as his tailoring business had failed, and he stopped work two years ago.

Whampoa MP Heng Chee How, who visited Mr Tan and his neighbours on the day of the fire, put out an appeal and eventually Lum Chang came forward.

In the meantime, the Housing Board arranged temporary rental housing for the two affected families. The Tans also received three months' worth of supermarket vouchers from the People's Association and free rice from a charity near their flat.

Asked about their willingness to pitch in, Lum Chang's spokesman said: "We hope this will help the affected families in some way as they rebuild their homes."

Said Mr Tan's son: "We are very thankful that this construction company was willing to help us."

ateng@sph.com.sg

jianxuan@sph.com.sg