If your neighbour's flat is on fire, what should you do?

Fire broke out at Blk 409 Bedok North Avenue 2 on Friday morning, on May 13, 2022. PHOTO: ST READER

SINGAPORE - Last week, Cheng Ping Peng, 14, a Secondary 3 student, was commended by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) for warning his Bedok North neighbours about a fire which killed three people.

He had run along the corridor barefooted, banging on people's doors to raise the alarm.

Fire safety experts The Straits Times spoke to said while his actions deserved praise, the public should not help others escape from a fire with no regard for their personal safety.

Mr Parthi (who goes by one name), a board member of the National Safety Council of Singapore, said residents should ensure they have appropriate footwear, especially if they are entering the affected unit to help.

This is because they may cut themselves on shattered glass fragments which may have cracked due to thermal stress caused by a fire, said Mr Parthi, who has more than 30 years' experience in the oil and gas industry.

On May 13, in his rush to save the residents of Block 409, Ping Peng had forgotten to put on shoes while running door to door to tell his neighbours that a fourth-storey unit was on fire.

A girl aged three, a woman, 56, and a man, 35, died that day.

In March, a fire broke out in New Upper Changi Road, killing one person.

While more people have died in fires in the first five months of this year compared to the three who died for the whole of 2021, the SCDF noted that there were fewer fires between January and April compared to the same period in 2021.

In the first four months of this year, the SCDF responded to 339 fire incidents at residential premises - a 6.9 per cent decrease from the 364 between January and April 2021.

Still, experts recognise the risk fires pose.

Mr Parthi said: "If your neighbour's flat is on fire, the first thing you should do is to shout 'fire' and ask for someone to call the SCDF.

"If the fire is still manageable, you can help the person (inside) evacuate, but only do so if it's not at risk to your own safety."

Cheng Ping Peng (left) and his brother Ping Chen received the Singapore Civil Defence Force Community Lifesaver Award. PHOTO: ST FILE

While it is always best to leave the building as soon as one knows there is a fire, those who are trapped within their homes should go to a room, shut the door and use a wet towel to block off smoke from entering before calling the SCDF for help, said Mr Parthi.

Mr John Wu, vice-chairman of the National Fire and Emergency Preparedness Council, said to prevent fires from happening, the public should keep common areas such as corridors and staircase landings clear of clutter and not indiscriminately dispose of lit cigarette butts.

Mr Wu said: "The council encourages households to install home fire alarm devices if they do not already have one as it can provide early warnings for fires."

Professor Sing Tien Foo, director of the Institute of Real Estate and Urban Studies at the National University of Singapore, said installing such alarms, even though it comes at a cost, will ensure people are warned early to quickly escape from a blaze.

Prof Sing added that in a fire, it would be helpful for the town councils to have a list of older or less mobile residents who are vulnerable so they will not be left behind during the evacuation.

To boost public emergency preparedness, more fire drills can also be organised in schools and workplaces, so people remember to follow escape routes and take the stairs instead of the lift since electricity may be cut off during a fire, he added.

Deadly May

The month of May saw five reported cases of serious fires resulting in three deaths. They are:

1. May 17: Block 117 Jalan Bukit Merah

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said the fire was of electrical origin that involved the contents of the bedroom of the ninth-storey unit. No injuries were reported but 35 residents were evacuated.

2. May 15: Block 180C Marsiling Drive

PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

A 29th storey unit caught fire late at night. Three unsupervised children - a young girl and two teenagers - were rescued and hospitalised. No injuries were reported, and the cause remains unclear.

3. May 14: Block 261 Serangoon Central Drive

The fire began at 1.20am at a coffee shop when the first-storey kitchen exhaust duct in the building caught fire. Twenty people were evacuated before the SCDF arrived, and one person was hospitalised for smoke inhalation.

4. May 13: Block 409 Bedok North Avenue 2

ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

A three-room flat caught fire at around 6.40am, killing three - the flat owner and two Malaysian tenants. One tenant remains in intensive care.

5. May 10: Telok Blangah

PHOTO: ST FILE

At a two-storey industrial building owned by Chip Hup Coffee Trading Co., an industrial coffee roaster caught fire while workers were cooling roasted coffee beans, said an employee. No deaths were reported.

Five tips to prevent fires

Make sure your fire extinguishers can be used for electrical fires and those resulting from other causes. PHOTO: ST FILE

1. Do not pour water into cookware to douse the flames. Turn off the gas supply immediately and cover the cookware with a lid instead

2. Only buy appliances which bear Enterprise Singapore's safety mark

3. Make sure your fire extinguishers can be used for electrical fires and those resulting from other causes

4. Keep cookware clean from grease and in good working condition

5. Do not put aromatherapy burners near windows and flammable materials such as wood and cloth

  • Source: Singapore Civil Defence Force and National Fire and Emergency Preparedness Council

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