Bukit Batok fire: Pump switch was left in wrong mode, town council says in update on investigation

A resident pointing out the lock on the fire hosereel at Block 210A Bukit Batok St 21, on Nov 2, 2019.
A resident pointing out the lock on the fire hosereel at Block 210A Bukit Batok St 21, on Nov 2, 2019.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - An employee of JKeart Alliances Pte Ltd, 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 on Monday (Dec 2) 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 St 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 JKeart, who 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.

On Monday, JCTC said a JKeart employee has confessed to having left the pump room switch in the wrong mode.

In a report on its investigation posted on its Facebook page, JCTC said it had interviewed JKeart employees and examined video footage from the CCTVs installed at the lifts of Block 210A.

It found that on the day of the fire, at about 8am, a JKeart employee had taken one of the lifts to the top floor from which the pump room can be accessed. On further questioning by JKeart, the man confessed that he had indeed gone to 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.

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

On the day of the fire, the SCDF officers also had to force open the hose reel cabinets, which were padlocked. Addressing this, 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 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 had apologised for.

On Monday, 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, known only as Madam Goh, is still undergoing treatment in Singapore General Hospital.

JCTC said it would continue to partner community leaders to support Madam Goh and her family.