Woman dies from injuries suffered in Bukit Batok blaze where fire hose reels could not be used

The woman in her 60s was rescued from the 13th-floor unit of Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21 on Nov 1, 2019. PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO READER

SINGAPORE - The woman injured in the Bukit Batok fire on Nov 1 - where officers were unable to use the fire hose reels - died in hospital on Monday (Dec 9), said a spokesman for the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

The 60-year-old woman was rescued from the 13th-floor unit of Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21 and had been receiving medical treatment at SGH for more than a month since the fire.

The woman, along with her 78-year-old husband and 27-year-old son, were hospitalised for burn injuries and smoke inhalation. The fire started at about 4am on Nov 1.

The hospital had earlier said her husband was discharged from hospital about a week after the fire and her son was discharged on Nov 15.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai wrote: "Friends, I regret to inform you that Mdm Goh, the Blk 210A fire victim on 1 Nov 2019, has passed away.

"Mdm Goh's family asks that their privacy be respected during this trying period. Deepest condolences to them. Wishing them strength to cope with the loss of Mdm Goh. RIP."

Mr Murali, who arrived in Berlin on Monday as part of a delegation accompanying President Halimah Yacob on her five-day state visit to Germany, told The Straits Times that he has cut short the trip.

He said he was flying back on Tuesday to Singapore to support the family, whom he has personally been in touch with over the past six weeks.

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Residents who ST spoke to on Tuesday said they did not know the affected family well, but added that they had been living there for about eight years.

A neighbour a few doors away from the affected unit, Mr Low Heow Jin, 75, said he believed the woman worked as a karung guni woman as she often kept items inside and outside the unit.

The retired boat repair man said he saw the adult son come back several weeks ago with a few other people to clean up the flat and collect stuff.

The unit where the blaze took place was still boarded up and its wooden door and gate which was badly charred was locked when ST visited.

Another neighbour living on the floor above said he was in contact with the woman's husband, but had not heard from him for a while.

Giving his name only as Mr Chan, in his 60s and unemployed, he said the father and son had been putting up at a relative's place but did not know the exact location.

The unit where the blaze took place. ST PHOTO: TAN TAM MEI

On the day of the fire, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) firemen had tried to use the hose reels at the block to put out the blaze that started in the 13th-floor flat.

They found that the hose reels cabinet was locked, and after they broke open the locks, found that the hose reels were dry.

The fire had to be extinguished using water from SCDF's emergency vehicles.

Later that day, SCDF inspected the reels with representatives from the Jurong-Clementi Town Council (JCTC). The council was issued with Fire Hazard Abatement Notices (FHAN) for non-compliance with fire safety requirements.

The notices are warnings that require town councils to fix the non-compliance.

The town council, which the Bukit Batok single-seat ward comes under, would receive a notice of a composition fine of up to $5,000 or prosecution, should the SCDF detect non-compliance issues of the same nature during a re-inspection.

A resident pointing out the lock on the fire hose reel at Block 210A Bukit Batok St 21 on Nov 2, 2019. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Mr Murali apologised on Nov 15 over how the fire hose reels that could not be used by firemen, telling residents that he was accountable to them as their elected representative.

He also disclosed that a contractor responsible for ensuring there is water supply to the hoses was being investigated, and that two town council officers would also be disciplined for padlocking the cabinets.

Mr Murali said the SCDF took notice of the matter on the day of the fire, and it was not a result of "anyone else drawing attention to this matter", in an apparent reference to a claim by Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan that the SCDF's follow-up with the town council came after he made a report.

Dr Chee, who had contested in Bukit Batok against Mr Murali in the 2016 by-election, had called on the MP to account for the matter after hearing from residents about the faulty hose reels.

On Dec 2, JCTC said its investigations showed that an employee of JKeart Alliances Pte Ltd, the contractor responsible for maintaining the fire hose reels in Bukit Batok, had left a pump switch in the wrong mode, resulting in water supply to the hose reels being cut off during a fire.

JCTC found that on the day of the fire, at about 8am, a JKeart employee had taken one of the lifts to the top floor from which the pump room can be accessed.

On further questioning by JKeart, the man confessed that he had indeed gone to the pump room. That was when he realised he had left the selector switch of the pump in the dormant "manual-mode" after conducting maintenance on the system two weeks before the fire.

He immediately switched it to "auto-mode", which activated the pumping of the water to the hose reel system.

JCTC said it would issue a Notice of Non-Performance to JKeart holding it contractually responsible for failing to ensure that the hose reel system was operationally ready.

JKeart has informed JCTC that it has taken appropriate action against its employee, who will also be redeployed.

As to why the hose reels cabinets were padlocked, JCTC said one of its property officers had done so as the cabinets were frequently vandalised.

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