Despite language barrier and health challenges, 81-year-old woman helps neighbour in HDB flat fire

81-year-old also acted swiftly despite curved spine, heart issues

Madam Lim Ee Chin, who is the oldest recipient of the Community First Responder Award, said she feels overwhelmed by all the media attention from the award and she does not see her actions as "anything special". ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Madam Lim Ee Chin, who is the oldest recipient of the Community First Responder Award, said she feels overwhelmed by all the media attention from the award and she does not see her actions as "anything special". ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Despite a language barrier and health challenges, 81-year-old Lim Ee Chin came forward to help her next-door neighbour Aisyah Villegas when a fire broke out in the living room of her flat.

Madam Lim immediately sprang into action when she saw black smoke billowing out of Ms Aisyah's front door.

She filled a pail with water in her bathroom, dragged it across her living room floor to her front gate and passed it to Ms Aisyah's brother, who had frantically dashed out of the flat to seek help.

It was not an easy feat for Madam Lim, who has a curved spine and heart issues, but this did not bother her in that instant.

"Of course I had to help. When I saw their house burning, it hurt my heart. They didn't set the fire on purpose. What if they have no house to live in?" she said in Mandarin, when The Sunday Times visited her on Thursday.

For her bravery, she received the Community First Responder Award on Aug 27, which was given out by the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

She is the oldest recipient of the award, which is presented to members of the public who have stepped forward to render assistance to others in distress, to save property, or both.

Madam Lim said she could not recall how many pails of water she fetched that night on Aug 9, but "it felt like an hour that would never end".

She had been watching television in the living room of her 12th-storey flat in Block 917, Jurong West Street 91, when she saw the smoke and heard her neighbour's cry for help.

Madam Lim's swift actions that night left an impression on Ms Aisyah, 27, who said that apart from the usual neighbourly greetings, she had not interacted much with the older woman before the fire because of the language barrier between them.

Madam Lim has lived in the flat for around 10 years, while Ms Aisyah moved into hers three years ago.

 

KIND PERSON

She's already so old but she still came out to help us so I was very surprised, though she has always been very kind to us.

MS AISYAH VILLEGAS, on 81-year-old Lim Ee Chin, who helped her family put out the fire in their living room.

Madam Lim, who did not have any formal education, speaks mainly Mandarin and Chinese dialects, with a smattering of self-taught English and Malay.

Ms Aisyah, who lives in the corner unit with her husband, two stepsons and her brother, said of Madam Lim: "She's already so old but she still came out to help us so I was very surprised, though she has always been very kind to us."

Ms Aisyah, who works as a retail assistant, said the fire appeared to have been caused by an electrical fault, although the exact cause is unclear.

She plans to buy some face masks for her Good Samaritan neighbour as thank-you gifts.

Madam Lim, who retired in 2018 after working in a tin factory for 36 years, spends most of her time now at home, going out mainly to buy food and for doctor visits.

Her 68-year-old sister, who lives with her in the flat and wanted to be known only as Madam Loh, encourages her to go out more often.

Madam Lim was adopted by Madam Loh's mother at a young age but did not change her surname.

The two women have never married. They have a brother and sister.

Madam Loh, who does administrative work in an audit firm, said of Madam Lim: "My sister was not educated at all but she's really intelligent and her memory is very good - it's even better than mine."

Madam Lim said she feels overwhelmed by all the media attention from the award and she does not see her actions as "anything special".

"It's just what neighbours do for each other, there's no need to make a big fuss over it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2020, with the headline 'Neighbourly help during fire transcends language barrier'. Print Edition | Subscribe