S’poreans find value in having emergency response skills

Restart a Heart programme teaches people quick and simple skills that are critical during a cardiac emergency. PHOTO: VANESSA DENISE FOO

SINGAPORE – When volunteer manager Vanessa Denise Foo, 35, was offered the chance to pick up basic life-saving skills through her employer SG Cares Volunteer Centre @ Yishun, she thought it would be a nice-to-have.

As a volunteer running coach to athletes in Singapore’s Special Olympics team, she wanted to be prepared in case anything befell one of her athletes on the track.

But her experience of the Restart A Heart programme turned her into an advocate for more people to learn skills such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to use the automated external defibrillator (AED).

Launched in 2018, the free programme organised by the Singapore Heart Foundation teaches people quick and simple skills that are critical during a cardiac emergency. 

Like Ms Foo, a number of Singaporeans have found it worthwhile to acquire – and keep current – emergency first-aid skills.

Sports SG’s Team Nila, a volunteer group, decided to commemorate this year’s Total Defence Day by taking part in the Community Emergency Preparedness Programme (CEPP), organised by the Singapore Civil Defence Force at its four division headquarters, to learn fire safety and core life-saving skills.

Some 350 volunteers completed their first CEPP session on Feb 4, in the four sessions that were organised that day.

Total Defence Day is commemorated on Feb 15, the day when Singapore fell to the Japanese during World War II in 1942.

The dean and group director of Singapore Red Cross Academy, Mr Sahari Ani, said his 15-year career with the Red Cross has taught him that how quickly a country bounces back when a major disaster strikes depends on its civil defence – how many of its people are prepared for such emergencies.

“The scale of disasters can be so large that the first responders are usually the people on the ground themselves,” said Mr Sahari, who has been to Afghanistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine to help with disaster management. 

This is why Singaporeans should have the preparation and skill set when the time calls for them to spring into action, he added. 

“If we don’t have a strong foundation during peacetime, it will test our system, it will be fractured,” said the 60-year-old.

He said his experience using these skills to help others has changed his world view – from one that saw the average person as driven by material motivations, to one where people readily step forward to help selflessly.

These include Singaporeans, despite their busy lives.

“I believe people have fullness in their hearts... When disaster strikes, people always come forward to help,” he added.

“The spirit has always been there.” 

Singaporeans have found it worthwhile to acquire - and keep current - emergency first aid skills. PHOTO: VANESSA DENISE FOO

Ms Foo said she considers herself fortunate that she has not had the need to put her CPR and AED skills to use yet, though her first-aid training was invaluable during a recent medical event.

“Just last week, an auntie fell down in front of me and started bleeding,” she said. After administering basic first aid, Ms Foo was able to call for help.

“I am able to help others with my basic skills – giving instructions or motivating them. If I panic, the rest will panic,” she added. “But if I’m composed and know what to do, others will feel safe around me.”

Mr Sahari said that one way to help more people equip themselves with such skills is to stop thinking that it is needed only during times of emergency. 

“It should be part of our daily life. The only difference between peacetime and emergencies is that during an emergency, we become a lot more adaptable,” he added.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.