'I felt I was melting': Firefighter who put out Telok Blangah Rise blaze

(From left) SCDF officers Muhammad Faiz Kalid, Gangadevi Rountan, Muhammad Zhairil Iman Sulaiman, Hoo Wei Kun Ryan, Lam How Weng Delon and Nur A'tikah Johari were part of the team who put out the fire at 39 Telok Blangah Rise. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
About 280 people were evacuated as a precautionary measure when a fire broke out in a unit on the 10th storey of Block 39 Telok Blangah Rise. PHOTOS: SINGAPORE CIVIL DEFENCE FORCE/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - When Lieutenant Gangadevi Rountan reached the scene of the fire in Telok Blangah Rise at about 4.45am, orange flames could be seen shooting out of the 10th-floor unit.

As the intense heat caused glass and concrete from the Housing Board block to plummet onto the ground, fearful residents, woken out of their sleep, hastily made their way to safety downstairs.

At the unit, the fire was raging out of the open front door, with the flames in both orange and blue hues within the flat.

Recalling the incident at Block 39 Telok Blangah Rise to the media earlier this week, Lt Gangadevi, who is rota commander at Alexandra Fire Station, said it was one of the biggest fires in an HDB unit she had seen in her 15 years of service.

Asked if she had any fears battling the flames, she said: "I didn't really find it scary to walk in but I'm not going to lie, the heat was very intense."

"I felt I was melting," added the 35-year-old, who led the first team of responders.

The fire on Jan 29 is believed to have killed one woman while another person was taken to hospital for smoke inhalation. The woman who died is said to be a 48-year-old Indonesian domestic helper who had been working in Singapore for the past three years, Chinese newspaper Shin Min Daily News reported.

Chia Gek Yong, 72, who lives in the unit where the fire started, was charged with mischief by fire on Jan 29. He is being remanded for psychiatric observation.

The blaze, which led to the evacuation of about 280 people, was put out within an hour using two water jets.

The operation involved about 45 Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) responders and 14 SCDF vehicles.

The responders who spoke to the media said the fire was more challenging and intense because of the blue flame coming from the kitchen which could not be doused with water.

Lt Gangadevi realised soon after that it could have been fuelled by a gas leak in the kitchen and, with Lieutenant-Colonel Ryan Hoo Wei Kun, 39, who was the overall commander at the scene, had the gas supply to the block turned off.

Lt-Col Hoo said: "Once we had our crew in and we shut off the (gas) valve, that's when the situation turned in our favour... If you don't eliminate the fuel, which in our case is the town gas, there's no way you can put out the fire, it's just going to keep on burning."

Officers who were not battling the fire provided assistance with evacuations and medical attention at the ground floor of the block.

Sergeant Delon Lam How Weng, 27, and Sergeant Muhammad Faiz Kalid, 22, a full-time national serviceman, used forced entry to break into a locked unit directly above the one on fire, where they found an unconscious woman lying on a mattress in a bedroom.

They got her out of the flat and took turns to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on her at the lift lobby until the ambulance crew took over.

"We had to really grip her tight and support her legs to bring her out (of the unit) safely. When I commenced CPR on her, all I could think about was giving my all to save her," said Sgt Lam.

She died later in the hospital.

After the fire was put out and the responders were allowed to go home, Lt Gangadevi, whose husband is also a firefighter, noticed she had missed calls from her daughters, aged 10 and 12.

They sent her a screenshot from their Google search of the blaze.

"When I reached home, they were so loving... They gave me milk and water, my younger one started massaging me and asked if I was okay," she said.

"You can't protect them as they grow, they are going to be informed... so it's about how you debrief them, manage the situation so they aren't afraid," she added.

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