S'poreans who help others cope with the haze



Call for aid rallies those near and far

Undergraduate Jeremy Chua, 25, expected to get a tan when he returned home on a break from his American university. Instead, he landed smack in the middle of the haze.

In a matter of days, he set up the SG Haze Rescue page on Facebook, which brought together Singaporeans willing to help give out masks, educate the public or even open their homes to provide respite from the haze.

Launched on June 20, the site was soon getting 300,000 hits a week. Even Singaporeans staying overseas wanted to help.

"There was a Singaporean living in Hong Kong who immediately ordered 250 masks and shipped them over to us for distribution when she heard about the mask shortage here," said Mr Chua, who is in his final year at Vanderbilt University.

As the haze subsides, he hopes to turn SG Haze Rescue into a general response system when other crises arise, and not just in Singapore.

"We're currently looking at expanding this project on a regional scale for other countries in the hope that we'll be able to form a giant network."

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- Chan Huan Jun


Poor visibility led to tricky rescue

When paramedic Yeo Ren Jie arrived at the scene of an accident early in the morning three weeks ago, he faced an unusual problem.

Because of the thick haze, he had trouble finding the motorcyclist who was lying on the expressway with a fractured leg.

So he told the ambulance driver to slow down. He finally spotted the victim when he was 50m away.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force officer then faced another issue. The poor visibility and morning rush-hour traffic were making rescue tricky.

So the 24-year-old staff sergeant moved the ambulance farther away, getting the driver to park it at an angle so that oncoming vehicles could see its search and hazard lights.

"That day, no one saw us till they were very near. There was a risk that they might hit us or the victim," he told The Sunday Times, adding that the victim's injuries were "quite bad".

When he asked how the accident happened, the motorcyclist said he had skidded after running over a stone which he did not see because of the haze.

- Jalelah Abu Baker


Quick to protect patients and staff

The morning after the PSI level hit 321, Ms Clara Sin and her team of senior management officers at National University Hospital swung into action.

"Within the day, windows were closed and 86 air-conditioners were deployed in all the subsidised wards," said Ms Sin.

The timely action helped keep patients from further exposure to the haze, which soon hit another high when the PSI reading reached 401.

Exhaust fans were also installed along corridors to dispel the haze, and a counter set up at the pharmacy to sell masks to the public.

At SingHealth Polyclinics, a haze task force tracked the stock of N95 masks and medications daily, said senior consultant Swah Teck Sin.

National Healthcare Group Polyclinics did its part by distributing masks and eye-drops to their staff, and even catered lunch so that the employees did not have to go outside, said director of human resource and finance Simon Tan.

"Staff wellness is critical so that the polyclinics can continue to provide care to our patients, even as the haze got worse," he explained.

- Poon Chian Hui


Happy to 'clear the air'

Ms Tang Hui Qi did not just have the haze to deal with, but also angry Singaporeans looking for an answer.

The National Environment Agency scientific officer, whose primary job is to make sure that air quality is properly measured, and her team had to deal with 500 to 600 calls and e-mail queries a day about the haze.

"Generally the callers are very angry, so they will just rant, they will vent their frustrations," said the 24-year-old, whose team had to deal with only 20 inquiries a day before the haze.

She added that many of them screamed at her, asking: "What is your government doing? What exactly? Tell me in detail. Why do I not see any changes?"

Her longest call took about 30 minutes.

While there is a call centre that attends to queries, those concerning the Pollutant Standards Index and the quality of air are routed to her team.

But, with unscientific rumours about the haze making their rounds, she told The Sunday Times that she was more than happy to "clear the air".

- Jalelah Abu Baker


Giving Chai Chee a breather

When Mr Poh Seng Kah got a call from a friend three weeks ago asking for help in donating masks, he did not think twice.

Two hours later, the 56-year-old, who runs a family business in waste management, was going door-to-door in Chai Chee, giving out 400 N95 masks. They were given to households living in one- room rental flats.

It was a family affair, with his son Poh Ching Hong, 26, and his brother Poh Seng Choon, 51, joining him. It took them three hours.

The masks came from Mr Poh's company. He had bought them for his workers, who are exposed to dust in their jobs.

"The Government might take some time to coordinate and execute such activities, so local merchants like us can step in faster," said his son.

The family does take part in other donation drives, but said that this was their first time helping out during the haze.

And the reactions from the needy and elderly who received the masks? "Heartwarming," said the 26-year-old.

- Jalelah Abu Baker