Joint SAF-SCDF team in Sumatra operating under 'challenging conditions': Commander

Singapore Civil Defence Force and Singapore Armed Forces officers, together with others, carrying out aerial fire-fighting operations in Palembang.
Singapore Civil Defence Force and Singapore Armed Forces officers, together with others, carrying out aerial fire-fighting operations in Palembang.PHOTO: K SHANMUGAM/ FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The 40-strong team from Singapore assisting Indonesia in its battle with forest fires has scored some success in reducing hot-spots.

This, in spite of having to operate under challenging conditions in South Sumatra said Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Tan, mission commander of the combined Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) firefighting assistance team.

"The very obvious challenge is the haze itself," the 45-year-old told Cyberpioneer in a report out on Wednesday. "There are two aspects to it: One is the visibility that affects largely the people who are flying the heli-bucket operations. The second aspect is the pollutants in the air that have adverse effects on our people - not just the guys who are flying but on the ground as well."

Three aircraft and 34 SAF personnel were deployed to South Sumatra - one of the worst hit areas during the ongoing haze crisis - on Oct 10. They were accompanied by a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in Palembang the capital city of South Sumatra, peaked at 530, which is in the hazardous zone, at 7am on Thursday. But the team from Singapore had operated at times when PSI soared to almost double that level.

Their efforts, however, had shown some results with the number of hot spots in Sumatra falling earlier in the week. Satellites had over Monday and Tuesday detected just 156 fires - down from a recent peak of more than 725.

This was attributed to a combination of showers over the region as well as the multilateral firefighting operations in South Sumatra, which was led by the Indonesians and also involved a team from Malaysia.

Team morale in the Singapore remains high despite the harsh conditions, added LTC Tan. "We see the purpose in coming here to help our neighbours... The team members are all very well-trained and prepared to undertake the missions that are expected. I'm confident that we will do a good job and, at the end of the operation, return to our families safely."

Lieutenant Samuel Ten, the Platoon Commander of the Air Terminal Company from 3rd Transport Battalion, added: "We have worked very well with our SCDF counterparts. In fact, we just completed a good mission today, finding more water sources and landing sites for the helicopter."

LTA Ten is an aerial cargo rigger and is responsible for ensuring that a 5,000-litre heli-bucket, used to douse fires from the air, is secured properly to the Chinook helicopter before take-off.

The Singapore team was also visited by South Sumatra governor Alex Noerdin, who thanked them for their assistance.

The water-bombing operation continues this week.