All hands on deck battling time and blazing heat

For the firefighting operation on March 20, SCDF officers had to arrange to move one of two large water guns housed on Jurong Island to Pulau Busing on a barge via Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal.
For the firefighting operation on March 20, SCDF officers had to arrange to move one of two large water guns housed on Jurong Island to Pulau Busing on a barge via Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Support vehicles, water guns deployed with SCDF personnel to fight southern island fire

Fire and rescue specialist Muhammad Hud Ayub was in the middle of his routine physical training in Telok Blangah on March 20 when a call came in.

The full-time national serviceman was to report to Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal with his team as quickly as possible to help put out a blaze on an island south of the mainland. "I felt an adrenaline rush. I immediately went into action, preparing what I needed," said the 19-year-old.

Mr Muhammad was one of 128 Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) personnel deployed to fight an oil storage tank fire on Pulau Busing.

When he got off the barge, he saw thick columns of smoke rising to the sky. "I felt the heat when I got nearer to the site."

For 10 hours, Mr Muhammad carried out duties such as adjusting ground monitors and replacing hoses. The fire took six hours to put out, with operations ending around midnight.

The force deployed 31 firefighting and support vehicles, including one carrying a large water gun that can shoot 6,000 gallons of water a minute.

The firefighters were later praised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

  • 31

    Number of firefighting and support vehicles deployed for fighting the oil storage tank fire on Pulau Busing.

  • 6,000

    Number of gallons of water a large water gun can shoot a minute. Firefighters battled Pulau Busing blaz

Colonel Alan Chow, who heads SCDF's first division, said his team was "quite composed" when the call came in. His first concern was whether there were casualties, as information on the fire was scant at the time. "We needed to know if there were people injured or trapped," he said. Luckily, there were no such victims.

Another concern was speed. Col Chow noted that the logistic requirements make an offshore fire harder to deal with.

For the fire on Pulau Busing, south-east of Jurong Island, officers had to arrange to move one of two large water guns housed on Jurong Island to Pulau Busing on a barge via Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal.

A water gun needs to be connected to a pump, a hose-laying truck and a foam pod. Foam helps to blanket fires, depriving them of oxygen, while a pump regulates the intensity of the spray. A hose-laying truck acts like an extension cord, connecting to a fire hydrant.

Making sure that the set-up does not obstruct traffic is a priority for first responders.

Nearby oil storage tanks were another concern on Pulau Busing. Col Chow said that first responders use thermal imagers to make sure temperatures are kept under control "for exposure protection", though at the time of the fire, their temperatures were "very high".

In its updates on the Pulau Busing fire, the SCDF posted photographs on Facebook of exhausted firefighters resting on the road, soaked in a mix of water and perspiration. One was of a fireman pouring water on his head to cool off.

Oil storage tank fires are rare in Singapore. "Some officers have got through their careers not having fought one," said Col Chow, noting that the last oil storage tank fire was on Jurong Island in April 2016.

The large scale of that fire also warranted the SCDF's deployment of a large water gun and other resources, he said.

Mr Muhammad, who stayed on Pulau Busing until 4am, said: "I wanted the fire to be quickly put out. I felt relieved that the fire was under control and nobody was injured... I was drenched in sweat afterwards."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2018, with the headline 'All hands on deck battling time and blazing heat'. Print Edition | Subscribe