On Assignment

Lifting the Lid: Behind the Lens of a Fire Evidence Specialist

Not all Singapore Civil Defence Fire (SCDF) officers fight fire, they also work behind the scenes to find out what sparked that first flame.
It is sundown and the room is dark; the floors and walls are blackened with soot, making it even harder to see. It’s the aftermath of a fire, and the room – which was once a living room – is barely recognisable. 

Warrant Officer 1 (WO1) June Yap turns on her flood light, takes a step back and pauses for a moment to survey the room.

She starts by photographing different pieces of evidence; a variety of solid and liquid samples, and labels them using numbered placards. She then carefully places the evidence in a Fire Evidence Collection Can, which will be delivered to the Fire Investigation Department to determine the cause of the fire.

This is what deployments for the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) Fire Evidence Specialists look like; taking photos in the aftermath of fires and collecting important evidence to aid in the fire investigation process.

In the absence of an actual fire scene, the Furnace, an SCDF Training Facility at the Civil Defence Academy, provided a glimpse of the work WO1 June does on the ground. PHOTO: Tan Ming Hui

Contributing to the Fire Investigation Process

Unlike firefighters, a Fire Evidence Specialist’s work starts after a fire has been extinguished.

WO1 June Yap. PHOTO: Tan Ming Hui

And though it may seem straightforward to the layman – take pictures and collect evidence – what WO1 June does is pivotal to resolving cases. She also ensures that any physical evidence collected is carefully preserved and isn’t tainted or destroyed.

“One of our biggest challenges would be to take a good photo in very confined spaces with low lighting conditions, such as in manholes or heavily hoarded residential units,” she explains. “There were also instances where we had to crawl under the vehicle to take photos of the undercarriage.”

WO1 June working the camera. PHOTO: Muhamad Khair

From scaling rooftops to trekking in jungles, there’s no telling where WO1 June’s next task may be – as she rightly puts it, “fires can happen anywhere.”

“I think people would be surprised at the number of fires that happen every day,” said WO1 June. “It can be challenging because these calls can come from any part of Singapore – I can be in Pasir Ris at one moment, and Tuas the next.”

WO1 June in a Fire Investigation Vehicle which she uses for her deployments. PHOTO: Tan Ming Hui

Calls can come in simultaneously as well. “There’re many instances where we’ve had simultaneous activations at opposite ends of Singapore. We have to think on our feet to decide which incident takes precedence,” explained WO1 June. “For example, it makes more sense to attend to a vehicle fire first to prevent holding up traffic, because the damaged vehicle cannot be towed until we arrive.”

A Different Take on Life on the Frontlines

According to SCDF’s Fire, Ambulance and Enforcement Statistics last year, fire calls in 2017 registered a 40-year low at 3,871. Although the Fire Evidence Specialists don’t respond to every call, that still averages to around 10 calls a day.

For WO1 June, receiving three calls a day is considered a “quiet” shift. She can expect to receive more than six calls on busier shifts, sometimes even up to 10. And it’s not surprising that WO1 June’s schedule can get hectic at times, especially since Fire Evidence Specialists work alone and there’s only four of them in the SCDF.

But WO1 June is no stranger to hectic situations. Compared to her previous vocations as a firefighter and a Hazmat Specialist, WO1 June’s current role is a different take on what life is like as an SCDF officer on the frontlines. 

WO1 June climbing down a flight of stairs with a fire evidence collection can in hand. PHOTO: Tan Ming Hui

 “What matters the most to the affected parties is why and how the fire started – this also raises the importance of implementing fire safety practices so that similar fires wouldn’t happen again,” she said. “I find fulfilment in helping with the investigation process to provide closure to the affected parties.”

Written by

Muhamad Khair


26 October 2018

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