SCDF all powered up on rescue missions

In Nepal, SCDF officers used struts to keep a collapsed stairwell up while they looked for a man buried under the rubble.
In Nepal, SCDF officers used struts to keep a collapsed stairwell up while they looked for a man buried under the rubble.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CIVIL DEFENCE FORCE

A four-storey building in Nepal's Lalitpur district leaned against its neighbour, on the brink of collapse.

Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers, who had volunteered their services following April's devastating quake, used struts to hold up a collapsed stairwell and building entrance while they looked for a young man buried under the rubble.

The struts, made of lightweight yet strong aluminium alloy, can handle a weight of about 20,000kg.

Since the launch of its overseas team Operation Lionheart in 1990, the SCDF has used increasingly high-tech devices to help rescue survivors in 16 missions worldwide.

It uses powerful hydraulic tools, for instance, to cut away debris, says Lieutenant-Colonel Alvin Tan, who led the 60-strong SCDF team in Nepal. Such tools are also used to break, crush and lift debris, mainly to create space so that officers can enter collapsed structures.

Power saws with blades as fine as 2cm can make a "clean and deep cut" in debris as thick as 20cm, "just like cutting a cake", Lt-Col Tan says.

"The natural choice is not to use equipment that will create too much vibration and cause a lot of debris to fall onto the victim trapped below," he adds.

Locating quake survivors involves assessing the situation to figure out what form of help is most needed - be it medical, search and rescue or otherwise, says Lt-Col Tan, who has been on six overseas missions, including to Christchurch after the earthquake in 2011 and Phuket, Thailand, following the 2004 tsunami.

In Nepal, before SCDF officers entered the rickety building to look for the man, they stabilised the structure with heavy machinery.

They have also used dogs and acoustic devices equipped with fibre-optic microscopes to search for trapped survivors.

Lt-Col Tan's most vivid memories are of the mission in Phuket.

"The damage we saw, no words could ever describe," he says.

The 41-year-old father of four says that talking to his family helps him cope.

"I share my experiences, especially with my kids, because I want them to know... they shouldn't take anything for granted."

Carolyn Khew

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2015, with the headline 'SCDF all powered up on rescue missions'. Print Edition | Subscribe