He was sleeping yesterday morning when he heard a commotion outside his flat.
Running out, retiree Toh Muxeng was greeted by a shocking sight.
His next-door neighbours stood at his door, covered in soot.
The woman in her 20s was clutching her baby and her screaming three-year-old son, who was badly burned.
She told Mr Toh that a fire had broken out in their two-bedroom flat on the seventh storey of Block 51, Circuit Road.
Mr Toh, 68, told The New Paper in Mandarin yesterday: "The boy's skin was burned and falling off his palms and forehead, piece by piece. He was screaming non-stop.
"The three of them looked half dead. I think they had breathed in a lot of smoke."
Mr Toh got his wife, who wanted to be known only as Madam Ng, 68, to call for an ambulance.
The retiree then swung into action.
Grabbing a pail of water and a scoop, he ran into his neighbour's living room, from which black smoke was pouring out into the corridor.
"There was thick, black smoke everywhere inside the flat," he said.
"Only the mattress in the living room was on fire, but I could not just dump the whole pail of water because there were electrical appliances lying around.
"I had to scoop water from the pail and put the fire out a bit at a time."
Mr Toh managed to put out the fire after 10 minutes. "When I came out, I coughed up phlegm that was black. There was also soot in my nose," he said.
When asked why he ran in to put out the fire, he said he had previously gone for a community emergency preparedness programme with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) in 2005, so he knew what to do.
Before the SCDF arrived, Mr Toh also tried to treat the three-year-old boy's burns and soothe his pain.
"I took eggs from the fridge and rubbed it on his skin to help cool him down," he said.
"It helped a little, I think, because he stopped screaming so much."
An SCDF spokesman said they were alerted to the fire at about 8.30am yesterday.
They sent two fire engines, two ambulances, two Red Rhinos, two fire bikes and a support vehicle, but the fire was extinguished before they arrived.
The three-year-old boy was taken to KK Women's and Children's Hospital with first- and second-degree burns, while the woman and her baby were taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for smoke inhalation and breathlessness.
The cause of the fire is being investigated.
Mr Toh said the woman was bathing when the fire started. He believes her husband was out working.
"They moved in here barely a month ago. I seldom see the husband because he's usually working," he added.
Mr Edwin Leong, 40, the assistant training director at Singapore First Aid Training Centre, said rubbing chilled eggs over burns is not recommended.
"In first aid context, the proper way to treat a burn is to flush it with tap water for not more than 10 minutes," he said.
"The whole idea is not to solve the problem of pain, but to gradually lower the temperature of the burn area so it doesn't continue causing additional burns."
But Mr Toh said he just wanted to help. "I always keep my door open, even if they don't.
"It's about the kampung spirit. I always believe in looking out for my neighbours."
This article was first published on May 20, 2015.
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