SINGAPORE - A desperate daughter stood outside her family flat, which was being swallowed by flames. The gate was locked and she could not get to her dad.
"Help, my father is inside," the young woman pleaded with Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers when they arrived at the 10th-storey unit in Tampines at around 10.30pm on Jan 28.
That marked a race against time for SCDF Warrant Officer 2 (WO2) Muhammad Hairul Hashim.
"The moment I heard that, I knew we needed to act fast," the deputy rota commander, 39, told The Straits Times on Thursday (Feb 3).
The firefighters immediately sprung into action. They broke open the gate and two of them entered the burning flat, wielding a water jet, which created a water curtain to protect the team from the heat.
WO2 Hairul and another firefighter followed right behind them and headed straight for the nearest bedroom as the daughter had told them her father could be inside that room.
"Fire was raging in the living room and I couldn't see beyond arm's length in the thick smoke, even with a torchlight. But we're trained to move around in darkness," said WO2 Hairul.
He was among some 30 SCDF officers, comprising firefighters and emergency medical service personnel, from Changi and Tampines fire stations who responded to the fire at the maisonette unit in Block 941 Tampines Avenue 5.
The door to the bedroom was locked and they again had to break it open.
"As I entered the bedroom, my feet came into contact with a person lying on the floor," said WO2 Hairul.
"I then dragged him out immediately, bumping into walls and furniture along the way."
The rescue took only five minutes and the man was taken to the lift lobby.
Staff Sergeant Afiq Hamizan Na'aim, 37, an emergency medical technician, tended to the man and comforted family members as they sobbed nearby.
"His nostrils were black with soot and his arms were covered in it. He was unresponsive but he had a pulse and was breathing," he said.
"I assured the family that we were doing our best and not to worry, that he was doing well. I explained I was monitoring his condition and clearing his airways."
The ambulance arrived about five minutes later and took the man, who is in his 60s, to Changi General Hospital.
The fire, which was mainly in the living room on the first level and a bedroom on the second, was extinguished with two water jets in about 30 minutes. The firefighters then conducted damping down operations to prevent the fire from rekindling.
Full-time national service firefighter Mohamad Haikal, 22, operated the first water jet, and operationally ready national service firefighter Hafiz Ibrahim, 27, handled the second.
Corporal Hafiz carried hoses, nozzles, breathing apparatus and rescue equipment - that can all add up to 60kg - up the stairs, while Corporal Haikal carried similar equipment up using the lift.
The SCDF officers also had to work with the police to evacuate about 180 residents.
The Tampines Fire Station commander, Major Goh Eng Khye, 32, who oversaw the operation, said: "The teams performed very well. Despite being from two different fire stations, their coordination was harmonious and they worked as one.
"It was not a typical Housing Board unit that's one storey. It was double the area the crew had to cover. Thankfully, the fire was extinguished quickly and the man was rescued."
The cause of the fire is under investigation.