SCDF to decommission fire station pump wells following drowning of NSF during ragging incident

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will decommission all 19 pump wells located at fire stations, after a full-time national serviceman (NSF) drowned in one during a ragging incident in May.

The SCDF also said that it will step up initiatives to institute in officers a "zero-tolerance" stance against ragging, and enhance its disciplinary and whistle-blowing frameworks.

These measures were announced by the SCDF on Thursday (Sept 13), in response to recommendations submitted by a Board of Inquiry convened to look into the fatal accident that took place on May 13.

The Board submitted its report to Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Aug 28. He has accepted the recommendations in full.

Mr Shanmugam said: "The recommendations will help the SCDF eradicate unauthorised activities, such as ragging. The conduct of the officers involved was unacceptable."

"Those who were assessed to be criminally culpable have been charged and will answer for their actions in court. The others will be investigated for departmental disciplinary actions," he said.

"We will do whatever we can to ensure that no more officers come to harm because of such activities," he added.

On May 13, Corporal (Cpl) Kok Yuen Chin, 22, a Singapore permanent resident from Malaysia, had been celebrating his impending operationally ready date with his squad mates at Tuas View Fire Station, when the tragedy occurred.

As part of ragging activities, Cpl Kok was pushed into the station's pump well by one of the SCDF officers. He did not surface and the first SCDF serviceman jumped in to try to rescue him eight seconds later.

Other servicemen jumped in as well, and various means to rescue Cpl Kok were used, including pumping water out of the well.

Cpl Kok was extracted from the pump well about 36 minutes after he had fallen in. He was pronounced dead at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

To decommission the wells, the SCDF said they will be filled up with granite chips and covered with concrete slabs. These works are expected to be completed by December, the SCDF added.

This will not affect operations, as the testing of fire engine water pumps and related training can be conducted at the Civil Defence Academy, the SCDF added.

To reinforce the culture of safety, ragging will now be acknowledged as contrary to the SCDF's core values, the SCDF said in a press release.

A set of guidelines has also been introduced for officers who plan to organise informal gatherings, such as to celebrate a colleague's operationally ready date.

Commanders will also be trained to "know how to identify vulnerable individuals and pre-empt and prevent unacceptable behaviour in SCDF, including ragging", the SCDF said.

"SCDF is committed to eradicating ragging within our ranks, and prevent any further tragic and needless loss of lives, even as our servicemen continue to serve the nation in fire-fighting and other emergency and rescue operations," it said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.