Marina Bay Suites guards' death a misadventure

Marina Bay Suites guards' death a misadventure
An injured Singapore Civil Defence Force member being taken to an ambulance after the fire broke out at the Marina Bay Suites condominium earlier this year.

The deaths of two security guards in a fire at Marina Bay Suites could have been prevented and should serve as a wake-up call for the private security industry to develop sound safety guidelines, said a state coroner.

Presenting his findings yesterday in court, State Coroner Marvin Bay ruled the deaths as a " misadventure" with no foul play, and made several recommendations to improve safety.

Mr Sim Lai Huat, 55, and Madam Sooria Kala Kaneseon, 33, had taken a fire lift up to a 65th-floor penthouse of the condominium to investigate what they had assumed to be a false fire alarm on Jan 13.

But they were untrained in fire inspection and should not have taken the lift up, said Mr Bay. Instead, they should have notified the authorities and residents, and simply waited for help from the civil defence force.

Mr Sim and Madam Sooria, however, went up and were engulfed by heat and smoke when the lift doors opened.

Mr Sim tried to close the doors, but the lift sensors "misinterpreted the thick smoke as an obstruction, rendering it unable to close", said Mr Bay. It was a fatal vulnerability of the system and "likely to happen again" unless the sensors are enhanced, he said.

The duo were killed primarily by extensive severe burns, with "extensive heat ruptures and fractures accompanied by the dismemberment of the various parts of the limbs".

As there was "no evidence of foul play", Mr Bay concluded that the deaths were "a tragic misadventure by an accidental fire".

He noted, however, that a fire investigation report by the Singapore Civil Defence Force had posited that "cigarette embers were believed to be the ignition source" and a rubbish bag of sawdust "the ignition fuel".

Mr Bay called for strict curbs on smoking by persons doing construction and renovation works, especially in high-rise structures.

Contractors should also be strongly discouraged from storing construction waste and paraphernalia close to lift landings, added Mr Bay.

Mr Sim leaves a wife and three children, while Madam Sooria is survived by her husband and four children. Their family members who were in court told The Straits Times they accepted the findings and would not be pursuing further investigations.

It is understood that they have accepted compensation, previously reported to be potentially more than $140,000 per family.

"Their job was to protect the residents, and they were just carrying out their responsibility. No one is in the wrong," said Mr Sim's son, human resources student Sim Wai Kiang, 25.

"We want to move on as soon as possible. It has been a torture for my mum especially and we don't want to burden her further," he added.

This article was published on Aug 21 in The Straits Times.

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