Fine for technician whose negligence delayed efforts to put out Bukit Batok fire

Malaiyappan Mayalagu was fined $2,700 after he pleaded guilty to endangering human life by a negligent act and tampering with evidence. PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG, JAMES SANGILI

SINGAPORE - During a maintenance check in October 2019, a technician failed to ensure that a water pump could readily supply water to hose reels in case of a fire at a housing block in Bukit Batok.

His negligence led to a delay in the rescue effort after a blaze broke out within a month, on Nov 1, 2019, as no water could be dispensed from the reels.

Firefighters scrambled to use their own water jets instead. The incident led to the death of a resident, while two others were hospitalised. 

During investigations, the technician, Malaiyappan Mayalagu, 51, sneaked into the pump room to reset the water pump to auto mode to hide his mistake.

On Friday, Malaiyappan, who is from India, was fined $2,700 after he pleaded guilty to endangering human life by a negligent act and tampering with evidence.

The court heard that he worked as a technician with J. Keart Alliances, a firm that was engaged by Jurong-Clementi Town Council to do fire protection system work.

His role included conducting  monthly water pump checks at the rooftop of Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21.

He had to set the pump to auto mode when he was done, so that water could be supplied to hose reels during a fire, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Sean Teh.

But during a check on Oct 14, he set the pump to manual, which requires a user to push a button in the pump room in order for water to be dispensed to the hose reels around the block.

At 4.30am on Nov 1, a fire broke out at a unit on level 13. Some residents of the block tried to access the fire hose reels, but the cabinets were padlocked.

Police officers evacuated some 70 residents. Firefighters came and used a bolt cutter to cut the padlock, but found that no water could be dispensed.

More firefighters arrived and set up two hose line jets that they brought to the scene outside the unit as an alternative, using water from a dry riser.

A firefighter tried to activate the hose reels again, turning on the valve, but still found that no water could be dispensed. 

By then, the water jets were ready to be used and the flames were extinguished by 5.15am.

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Two residents, who climbed out of a kitchen window to escape, were rescued and taken to hospital.

Another resident, a 60-year-old woman, who suffered smoke inhalation died after over a month of treatment in hospital. 

It was soon found that the water pump on the rooftop had been set to manual instead of auto.

The prosecutor said: "The failure of the fire hose reel to dispense water led to a delay of several minutes in the rescue efforts to extinguish the fire."

Malaiyappan Mayalagu's negligence led to a delay in the rescue effort after a blaze broke out on Nov 1, 2019. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

J. Keart Alliances was given feedback on what happened, and the company sent Malaiyappan and two others to the block. 

Malaiyappan slipped away from his colleagues and headed to the pump room on the 16th floor and set the switch to auto.

He later admitted to hiding his mistake after his superiors confronted him with security footage of him entering the pump room and warned him not to lie.

District Judge Sharmila Sripathy found that Malaiyappan’s negligent act was one of several factors that delayed rescue efforts and that he did not deserve jail time.

For committing a negligent act that endangers human life or the personal safety of others, an offender can be jailed for up to three months and fined a maximum of $1,500.

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