Firefighting is in this family's blood

Firefighting is in this family's blood
PHOTO: The New Paper

It was one of the biggest offshore fires in Singapore's history and Mr Slamat was one of the 300 firefighters battling the blaze.

With the fire still raging, he went to the holding site at the end of his shift and bumped into another firefighter preparing to go into battle.

It was his son, Mr Mohammad Azlan.

They did not exchange words - when there are four generations of firefighters in a family, they are well aware of the risks they take each day.

Mr Slamat, 78, who is now retired, joined the Singapore Fire Brigade in 1958.

His late father, Mr Mat Nawi, was 18 when he joined in 1930 and was a firefighter till 1964.

Mr Azlan, 48, joined in 1988.

The Singapore Fire Brigade was renamed Singapore Fire Service in 1980.

And in 2013, Mr Azlan's son, Mr Tajul Isfahan, 22, joined what is now known as the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

In 1988, Mr Slamat and Mr Azlan battled the Pulau Merlimau fire.

One of the southern islands off the coast of Jurong, Pulau Merlimau has since been reclaimed as part of Jurong Island.

It used to house the Singapore Refining Company's refinery.

The fire started at a naphtha storage tank when repair works were being carried out and spread to three other tanks.

A total of 25 people, mostly firefighters, were injured in the fire, including five who were seriously hurt.

The fire burned for six days before it was finally put out.

Mr Slamat said: "I remember seeing my son there at the holding area in Tuas when I came back from fighting the Pulau Merlimau fire. He was taking over the next shift."

Mr Azlan said they did not have time for words, not that there was any need for it.

He added: "We are firefighters. We know what it's like, we know all the dangers.

"There was no need for words."

The family was also part of the mobile column at this year's National Day Parade.

Mr Slamat was even born in a fire station.

He said: "Back then, there were quarters at the Central Fire Station. It was known as Hill Street Fire Station. That was where I was born because my family lived there.

"Firefighting is in my blood."

Mr Slamat also fought the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961 where more than 2,800 homes in Kampong Bukit Ho Swee were destroyed.

Four people died.

In 1972, he battled the Robinsons fire at Raffles Rlace. It started from an electrical fault in the Robinson's Department Store, destroying the building and killing nine people.

In May this year, Mr Slamat's son and grandson shared the same fire station.

Mr Isfahan said it was awkward at first working with his father at West Coast Marine Fire Station.

"I saw him only every two days because we were on different shifts," he added.

"I couldn't call him Dad, he was Encik Azlan. He was scarier in his uniform.

"I also heard a lot of stories about him being very strict."

Mr Azlan laughed and said: "I was being professional. Home is home, work is work. I don't bring my work home."

Mr Slamat said the Singapore of old was very different, from the types of fires to how they fought them.

"There were many attap houses, which burned quickly. Now the buildings are made differently and are very tall.

"Back then, we fought fire in short-sleeved shirts and helmets. No suits, no jackets, nothing."

But he said the task was still the same: put out fires and save lives.

"It's our small contribution to Singapore and her people," said Mr Slamat.

"It is saving lives that drives us."

While all of them hope the legacy will continue in the family, none of them believes in telling the next generation what to do.

Just as his father never told him to become one, Mr Slamat said he never asked Mr Azlan to become a firefighter, and Mr Azlan, in turn, never asked Mr Isfahan to join the service.

Mr Azlan said: "I didn't force or lead my son to become a firefighter but he's a natural."

This article was first published on September 8, 2015.
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