A trial by fire for SCDF at massive LPG facility blaze

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.
Among the firefighters who tackled last Friday's blaze at a Jalan Buroh liquefied petroleum gas facility were (from left) Corporal Thio Zheng Yang, Lance Corporal Muhammad Fazlan Rozali, Sergeant Ahmad Kafee Azman, Second Warrant Officer Syed Yazid S
Among the firefighters who tackled last Friday's blaze at a Jalan Buroh liquefied petroleum gas facility were (from left) Corporal Thio Zheng Yang, Lance Corporal Muhammad Fazlan Rozali, Sergeant Ahmad Kafee Azman, Second Warrant Officer Syed Yazid Syed Nasiruddin, Captain Dinesh Verlachamy, Major Navin Balakrishnan, Lieutenant Tan Chun Hui, Lieutenant (Volunteer) Lin Jiawei and Staff Sergeant Fairoz Mohd Salleh.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Firefighters trying to put out the blaze last Friday in Jalan Buroh, the biggest liquefied petroleum gas fire the SCDF has battled.
Firefighters trying to put out the blaze last Friday in Jalan Buroh, the biggest liquefied petroleum gas fire the SCDF has battled.PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

Firefighters braved flying gas cylinders, high heat and other dangers in putting out inferno

It was the first fire for Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) 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 was the biggest LPG fire that the force has battled.

One person was killed and two others injured in the blaze.

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 broke out around 5pm at the bottling and storage facility of Summit Gas Systems, a subsidiary of Union Energy Corporation, which distributes LPG cylinders to homes and businesses.

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.

 
 
 

Recounting the incident, nine SCDF officers who fought last Friday's blaze yesterday shared their experience on the ground.

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

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

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

2WO 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 operations, seven water jets, including an unmanned firefighting machine, were used to contain the fire that subsided after about two hours. Eventually, the call was made for firefighters to enter the premises, and the fire, which had burned 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 heat from the flames could have caused the tanks to rupture and release 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 helped him make some crucial decisions.

Major Navin 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, which 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. One was discharged last Saturday, while the other remains 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.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2019, with the headline 'A trial by fire for SCDF at massive LPG facility blaze'. Print Edition | Subscribe