Training key to tackling Tuas blaze: SCDF officers

Over 200 firefighters were involved in putting out last Thursday's fire at a waste management plant in Tuas. Among them was Captain Shawn Tan, 28, the only female firefighter at Tuas View Fire Station.
Captain Shawn Tan, the only female officer at Tuas View Fire Station, was the rotation commander on duty when the fire at Eco Special Waste Management broke out. She was less than two hours from ending her 24-hour shift, but left the station with her
Captain Shawn Tan, the only female officer at Tuas View Fire Station, was the rotation commander on duty when the fire at Eco Special Waste Management broke out. She was less than two hours from ending her 24-hour shift, but left the station with her team within a minute's notice to fight the blaze.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Above, from left: Among the SCDF firefighters who responded to the raging blaze at Eco Waste Special Management's premises in Tuas View Circuit last Thursday were Cpl Tan Zhi Wei, Sgt Muhammad Farhan Kutubundeen, Maj Huang Weikang, Capt Shawn Tan; St
Above, from left: Among the SCDF firefighters who responded to the raging blaze at Eco Waste Special Management's premises in Tuas View Circuit last Thursday were Cpl Tan Zhi Wei, Sgt Muhammad Farhan Kutubundeen, Maj Huang Weikang, Capt Shawn Tan; Staff Sgt Salman Adam, Sgt Syazrul Hakim Zulkifli and Lance Cpl Wong Weiyang.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Left: At the height of the fire that broke out early last Thursday morning in Tuas View Circuit, loud explosions could be heard.
At the height of the fire that broke out early last Thursday morning in Tuas View Circuit, loud explosions could be heard.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

With no time to think, firefighters say they responded with their reflexes and instincts

More than 200 firefighters worked hard to extinguish last Thursday's raging fire at a waste management plant in Tuas. Among them was Captain Shawn Tan, 28, one of 11 female rotation (Rota) commanders in the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

Capt Tan, who is stationed at Tuas View Fire Station, was more than 22 hours into her 24-hour shift when her team got the alert about the blaze, which broke out at about 6.15am at Eco Special Waste Management in Tuas View Circuit.

The team left the fire station within a minute's notice and reached the scene about five minutes later.

"At the scene, we could feel the heat and hear the explosions; and the smoke was choking, but there wasn't time to think as our reflexes from training kicked in," said the officer, who has been with the SCDF for nearly two years.

The team immediately linked up with Eco Special's emergency response team and, after everyone had been evacuated, the firefighters sprung into action setting up water and foam jets to prevent the blaze - one of the biggest within the Tuas View boundary in recent years - from spreading.

Also among the team of 16 first responders was a hazardous materials specialist, Staff Sergeant Salman Adam, 34, and two full-time national servicemen, Sergeant Syazrul Hakim Zulkifli, 23, and Lance Corporal Wong Weiyang, 22.

HEAT AND CHOKING SMOKE

At the scene, we could feel the heat and hear the explosions; and the smoke was choking, but there wasn't time to think as our reflexes kicked in.

CAPTAIN SHAWN TAN, the rota commander on duty at Tuas View Fire Station when the fire broke out at about 6.15am last Thursday.

 
 

"Through the heat and smoke, we just had to trust our instincts and our fellow firefighters," said Sgt Syazrul. He said the fire was the largest he had seen in his seven-month posting at Tuas View Fire Station.

About 10 minutes into firefighting operations, the blaze became more intense and spread beneath the ground where the SCDF officers were due to oil spilling from a drainage system. "It wasn't safe for my men, so we had to pull back and call for reinforcements," said Capt Tan.

Firefighters from other stations pitched in

They were soon joined by almost 200 firefighters, including the commander of Tuas View Fire Station, Major Huang Weikang, 33, and two operationally ready national servicemen, Sergeant (NS) Muhammad Farhan Kutubundeen, 27, and Corporal (NS) Tan Zhi Wei, 23.

Said Maj Huang: "We fought the fire on the defensive, and after we found out more about where it was from and what was being burnt, we tackled it on the offensive by sending in foam jets to take on the fire."

SCDF officers from surrounding fire stations later arrived on the scene, and the blaze, which engulfed the 200m by 200m compound, was put out after four hours.

A total of 38 fire and rescue vehicles, 10 water and foam jets, two water monitors, and three unmanned firefighting machines were involved in dousing the flames.

Damping down operations to prevent any rekindling of fire on burnt areas were still being carried out yesterday.

No one was hurt, but one fireman was taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital for heat exhaustion. He was discharged the next day.

Said Capt Tan, who is the only female officer at Tuas View Fire Station: "Fire does not distinguish between a man or a woman, and I believe that as long as I'm passionate about this job, I can do it.

"All of us work together as a team here. There's no one-man operation when it comes to fighting a fire. Someone always has your back."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline 'Training key to tackling Tuas blaze: SCDF officers'. Print Edition | Subscribe