Fatal Jurong fire: How SCDF officers braved 30m-high black smoke and flying cylinders

It took around 120 firefighters about six hours to extinguish a massive fire at a Jalan Buroh liquefied petroleum gas facility on June 21. Recounting the incident, nine SCDF officers spoke to the media about their experience.
Some of the firefighters who responded to the LPG fire in Jalan Buroh on June 21, 2019.
Some of the firefighters who responded to the LPG fire in Jalan Buroh on June 21, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - It was the first fire for Singapore Civil Defence Force officer Muhammad Fazlan Rozali, but as his team approached the blaze and saw 30m-high thick black smoke and flaming cylinders whizzing through the air, his excitement gave way to fear.

"I knew that I might have to fight a big fire, but I didn't think that time would come so soon," said the 20-year-old full-time national serviceman who has been with Jurong Island Fire Station for two months.

The blaze at a Jalan Buroh liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) facility last Friday evening (June 21) was the biggest LPG fire that the force has battled.

One person was killed and two others injured.

Lance Corporal Fazlan and his colleagues, who were among the first responders, sprang into action and searched the area for fire hydrants to help fight the fire.

The massive fire had broken out around 5pm at the bottling and storage facility of Summit Gas Systems, a subsidiary of Union Energy Corporation, which distributes LPG cylinders to residential and commercial customers.

Located on site were hundreds of highly flammable LPG cylinders, and at that time, there was also a deafening hiss in the air, indicating that some of the cylinders were leaking flammable gas.


The blaze spread rapidly across the facility, about the size of two football fields, in the Jurong industrial area. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

The blaze spread rapidly across the facility, about the size of two football fields, in the Jurong industrial area.

Recounting the incident, nine SCDF officers who fought Friday's blaze spoke to the media on Tuesday (June 25) about their experience tackling the fire.

Rota Commander Tan Chun Hui, 26, from Jurong Fire Station said of the towering inferno: "I've never seen anything like it before, and I'm pretty sure none of the others have either."

She said an immediate concern was to ensure that the numerous cylinders shooting out of the compound did not hit them and did not ignite neighbouring premises, which included a nearby petrol station.

Under orders from Lieutenant Tan, Second Warrant Officer Syed Yazid Syed Nasiruddin set up water jets to prevent the spread of the blaze. He said that through their protective gear, they could still feel the heat, and there were times they had to pull back as the fire inched towards them.

WO2 Syed Yazid, 29, who has been with the force for a decade, said: "Honestly, I was scared, but we all had to put our fears aside."

 
 
 

Thirty-five emergency vehicles were deployed and, at the height of the firefighting operations, seven water jets, including an unmanned firefighting machine, were used for boundary cooling to contain the fire, which subsided after about two hours.

Eventually, the call was made for the firefighters to enter the premises and the fire, which burnt for six hours, was extinguished.

Another concern was to prevent the flames from spreading to two large 60-tonne LPG bullet tanks at the back of the facility, said Captain Dinesh Verlachamy, 36.

The commander of Jurong Fire Station said the high temperature from the flames could have caused the tanks to rupture and release their flammable contents. This would have resulted in a massive vapour explosion that could have spread to the neighbouring premises and beyond.

Commander of Bukit Batok Fire Station Navin Balakrishnan, 37, said this would have been catastrophic.

He added that knowledge of the premises from an exercise he did with the company last year also helped them make crucial decisions.

Major Navin said he knew the site was labelled as a high-risk installation with gas mains and pipes running through one of the buildings there.

Taking a "calculated risk", he decided to enter the area with two of his men to manually turn off the valves located next to the building and cut off the gas supply.

Maj Navin said the fire was daunting even for a veteran like him, but the incident, that brought together about 120 officers from at least four stations, was a reminder that they are "bonded by fire".

"The camaraderie with those beside you gives you the courage to move together," he said.

Two workers, aged 29 and 45, both Chinese nationals, were taken to hospital that day. One of them was discharged on Saturday, and the other is still hospitalised.

The employee who died was a 43-year-old Chinese national. The authorities are arranging for his family to come to Singapore.

On Monday, Union Gas Holdings said in a Singapore Exchange filing that operations at the Summit facility, which is its supplier, have been suspended and moved to another site.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.