Fighting fires changed his life

SINGAPORE - Most young enlistees react to their national service posting with trepidation. But 24-year- old Matthew Zachary Liu felt only disappointment when he learnt that he would serve as a firefighter in the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

Mr Liu, then 22, had been hoping to become an army officer like his father.

"I was very disappointed. I had always seen the SAF as the protector of Singapore, not so much the SCDF, " he said.

But the stint turned out to be a "life-changing" experience for him, as he got to make friends from all walks of life while battling blazes.

It was an eye-opener for the half-Korean, half-Singaporean, who said that he had had a "privileged" upbringing.

"Even though we were very different, the people I met accepted me and I became part of the 'brotherhood'," said the former Ngee Ann Polytechnic communications student, who is now a freelance event host.

He fought alongside those brothers when the crew from Bukit Batok Fire Station were called to fight a Bukit Timah warehouse fire for eight hours in November 2012.

"One guy almost collapsed from exhaustion but he still wanted to keep going," he recalled. "That baptism of fire made me realise how many unsung heroes there are in the SCDF."

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