Last December's fire at a Geylang house which killed four foreign workers is a stark reminder that one must immediately leave the scene as soon as a fire is suspected or an alarm sounded.
In his findings yesterday, State Coroner Marvin Bay said the four Malaysian cleaners who died had decided to stay on in the room, despite a fire raging in the building, and wait for help to arrive.
They were rapidly overcome by the toxic smoke and died from inhaling it on Dec 6 last year.
He said it is extremely hazardous to remain indoors to "wait out" a fire. "In a closed space, the build-up of toxic fumes from combustion can quickly reach lethal levels, and overwhelm any person remaining in the premises, well before help can arrive," he said.
Upon suspicion of a fire, everyone within should evacuate without any delay, as the window of opportunity for escape, as can be seen in this case, can be extremely narrow. He noted that two other cleaners - Mr Sapawi Ahet and Mr Peter Awat, both 48 - who fled promptly, emerged unscathed.
Another survivor - Mr Muslin Musundo, 41, who is the younger brother of one of the four who died - tarried only a few moments more and sustained significant burns as he belatedly negotiated the burning passageway.
Mr Jubitol Rumanjing, 37; Mr Ramu Kotiah, 50; Mr Yusoff Masrong, 49; and Mr Maslan Musundo, 43, paid the "ultimate price for their decision to stay and 'wait out' the fire", said Coroner Bay. "This case is a timely reminder, where premises are intended to house a large number of people, of the need to always ensure that passageways of these properties remain uncluttered of combustible materials, and be able to facilitate an expeditious and complete mass evacuation, in the event of any emergency."
All four were found in a room on the first floor of the three-storey Lorong 4 structure. The first three died at the scene between 2.33am and 2.37am while Mr Maslan, who was found sitting in the corner of the room with a blanket over his head, died about 30 minutes later in hospital.
Investigators found that the most likely source of ignition was the heat from the wiring or connections of the fluorescent lighting at the common area outside Room 10, which was across the passageway from the room where the four men were found. The items near Room 10 included a wooden sliding cabinet, styrofoam boxes, long pieces of wood, big plastic boxes and a four-plug extension cable.
Coroner Bay, who ruled out foul play, found the four deaths to be the result of a tragic misadventure.