Seletar house fire: Occupants thought aunt, 86, would not make it out alive

Madam Tay Bee Neo with (from left) Special Constable Muhammad Amru, Sergeant Tan Wei Jie and Sgt Choong K-Ron. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - As she was preparing dinner with her cousin and helper on the first floor of her two-storey house on April 16, anaesthesiologist Sharon Ong heard someone pounding on her door.

It was her neighbour, with fire extinguisher in hand. He had seen smoke through the window at the back of Dr Ong's semi-detached house on Nim Road, off Seletar Road.

The neighbour had also alerted the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

As Dr Ong, her two children and her cousin bolted from the burning house, her Indonesian helper rushed upstairs to get Dr Ong's father, who was in his room.

Dr Ong's husband was not home at the time.

The helper was able to evacuate the 81-year-old from the house before he suffered from smoke inhalation.

Dr Ong, 52, then realised that her aunt, Madam Tay Bee Neo, 86, was in the second- storey bathroom.

The bathroom is directly opposite Dr Ong's room, where the fire was later found to have started.

Madam Tay, who has dementia, wondered why the house was so dark when she stepped out of the bathroom.

By then, Dr Ong had rushed back into the house and scurried up the stairs to save her aunt. Choking on the smoke as her eyes smarted, Dr Ong shouted desperately for her aunt to get out of the house.

She could not proceed farther, and when there was no response from Madam Tay, she went back outside to her family in front of the house. 

Staring at the scene, Dr Ong could not help but wonder if that was how it would end for her aunt. 

Sergeant Tan Wei Jie, Sergeant Choong K-Ron, and Special Constable (SC) Muhammad Amru from the Serangoon Neighbourhood Police Centre were the first to arrive at the scene at around 6.10pm.

SC Amru controlled the crowd which had gathered around the house, while Sgt Tan and Sgt Choong rushed into the house.

The two immediately had difficulty breathing and retreated to the staircase landing.

Sgt Choong recalled his training and began doing a “leopard crawl” to avoid the smoke. Sgt Tan followed suit. 

They then spotted Madam’s Tay feet under the smoke. 

They crawled to where she was standing and helped her get out of the house. 

Dr Ong said: "It means the world to us that they saved the most precious person to us. It might have been a tragedy.

"I am grateful for the trainers and parents who raised such phenomenal sons dedicated to protecting the nation."

On Tuesday (May 10), Sgt Tan, Sgt Choong, and SC Amru received SCDF Community Lifesaver awards.

Colonel Lim Beng Hui, commander of the 3rd SCDF Division, who presented the awards, said: "Their act of bravery in that crucial moment is commendable and demonstrates the spirit of a Home Team officer."

Sgt Tan said that, despite being trained as a police officer rather than a firefighter, it was his mission as a police officer to protect lives and property.

"I would rather do something than regret doing nothing," he added.

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