Bukit Batok fire: Pump switch left in wrong mode

An employee of J. Keart Alliances, the contractor responsible for maintaining the fire hose reels in Bukit Batok, had left a pump switch in the wrong mode, resulting in water supply to the hose reels being cut off during a fire.

The Jurong-Clementi Town Council (JCTC) disclosed this yesterday after completing its investigations into the incident that came to light on Nov 1.

That day, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) firemen had tried to use the hose reels at Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21 to put out a blaze that started in a flat on the 13th floor. They found that the hose reels cabinet was locked, and after they broke open the locks, found that the hose reels were dry.

But this was contradicted by J. Keart, which provided signed statements from its employees asserting that the hose reels had been properly maintained. The company also submitted a video to show that the hose reels had water supply on that day.

Yesterday, the JCTC said a J. Keart employee confessed to leaving the pump room switch in the wrong mode. In its investigation report posted on its Facebook page, the JCTC said it had interviewed J. Keart employees and examined footage from closed-circuit televisions installed at the lifts of Block 210A.

It found that on the day of the fire, at about 8am, a J. Keart employee had taken one of the lifts to the top floor from which the pump room can be accessed.

On further questioning by J. Keart, the man confessed he had indeed gone into the pump room.

That was when he realised he had left the selector switch of the pump in the dormant "manual-mode" after conducting maintenance on the system two weeks before the fire. He immediately switched it to "auto-mode", which activated the pumping of the water to the hose reel system.

The JCTC said it would issue a Notice of Non-Performance to J. Keart, holding it contractually responsible for failing to ensure the hose reel system was operationally ready. Meanwhile, "J. Keart has informed JCTC that it has taken appropriate action against its employee, who will also be redeployed", the town council added.

 
 
 
 

On the day of the fire, the SCDF officers also had to force open the hose reel cabinets, which were padlocked. Addressing this, the JCTC said one of its property officers had done so as the cabinets were frequently vandalised. It added that though the officer "has provided dedicated service to JCTC over many years", he will be redeployed. Two senior officers who are his supervisors will also be penalised, said the JCTC, without giving details of the penalties.

The town council was issued Fire Hazard Abatement Notices by the SCDF for the two lapses, which Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai has since apologised for.

The JCTC said its officers had inspected the fire safety equipment in all seven wards it oversees, and found that while most were in working condition, some had been vandalised. The town council added that urgent steps were being taken to repair and replace the damaged equipment. "JCTC will not hesitate to refer persons damaging and misusing fire safety equipment to the authorities for investigation," it said.

The town council has also set up a committee comprising Mr Murali and Jurong GRC MPs Ang Wei Neng and Tan Wu Meng to look into the reliability of fire emergency equipment. The committee will consult independent experts and residents before making recommendations.

The Nov 1 fire had left a couple, in their 60s, and their son, in his 30s, with burn and smoke-inhalation injuries. The woman is still undergoing treatment in Singapore General Hospital.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2019, with the headline 'Bukit Batok fire: Pump switch left in wrong mode'. Print Edition | Subscribe