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This is Why We Serve: Driven to Innovate

Combining a passion for design with paramedic experience – how SCDF built a better ambulance.
Rumbler siren on: LTA Yeo stands proudly by his work. PHOTO: Soo Jun Xiang

“Innovation isn’t a chore.”

For Lieutenant (LTA) Yeo Ren Jie, that motto is one to live by. Two years ago, his team conceptualised and built the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) next-generation ambulance. Designed to meet our unique operational requirements, the ambulance is now a vital part of SCDF’s Emergency Medical Services framework, helping to save lives every day. 

Building the next-generation ambulance took LTA Yeo five years of research and brought him back to school a second time. He shares with us the path that led to innovation. 

Twin Passions
After graduating from Temasek Polytechnic’s Industrial Design programme in 2008, Ren Jie stood at a crossroads between his two passions. As a volunteer with SCDF’s Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit, he loved his paramedic duties but had also contemplated a career as an industrial designer. Choosing to serve, he decided to sign on with SCDF. 

Blueprint for transformation: The next-generation ambulance is safer, more compact and functional than previous models. PHOTO: Muhamad Khair

But design remained a passion. Within two years, LTA Yeo made his first breakthrough, successfully designing and implementing a new stretcher cot for SCDF. From then on, his design efforts blossomed alongside his paramedic career. 

Wheeled Challenge
Working on the frontlines, LTA Yeo noticed that SCDF’s ambulance fleet at the time was better suited for treating patients on-site rather than rapidly conveying them to hospitals. As Singapore’s hospitals were more tightly clustered compared to other countries, patients could be conveyed to hospitals before their condition became critical. 

LTA Yeo set-up a research team to design a new ambulance that would prioritise speed and safety. To ensure that he had the knowledge and skills to contribute to the project, he also applied for a scholarship with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to undergo a degree in Industrial Design at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Back to School
Six years had passed since LTA Yeo was last in school. “The challenge during my first semester was definitely getting back to life as a student,” he recalled. “When you’ve become used to working, going back to lectures and tutorials – it’s tough.”

But with the support of his SCDF supervisors and instructors in school, LTA Yeo was able to balance all of his commitments. A term at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign gave him further insight into user-centricity, ergonomics and mission-critical design. He found his groove, graduating at the top of his class in 2018. 
Among the next-generation ambulance’s design features is a seamless interior that allows for easier decontamination and faster deployments. PHOTO: Muhamad Khair

Ready to Rumble
Looking back, LTA Yeo credits his years as an SCDF officer with giving him a focus for his efforts. “I always tried to align my projects with SCDF so that I could contribute back to the organisation,” he recalled.

Synthesising his studies at NUS with research, lessons he drew from attending trade shows around the world, and a touch of wild imagination, LTA Yeo developed key features of SCDF’s next-generation ambulance. These included front-facing seats for better crew safety and a rumbler siren that emits vibrations through subsonic frequencies, alerting surrounding vehicles to give way. 

To encourage innovation within his team, LTA Yeo has set up an Innovation Corner at Yishun Fire Station and regularly hosts brainstorming sessions. PHOTO: Muhamad Khair

Creating Change
For embodying the spirit of continuous learning and skills upgrading, LTA Yeo received the Exemplary SkillsFuture @ Public Service Award at this year’s Public Sector Transformation Awards Ceremony. 

Now in his 13th year as an SCDF officer, LTA Yeo’s desire to push himself hasn’t dimmed one bit. Having completed the Rota Commander Course in 2019, he’s one of the new cohort of officers who combines frontline medical expertise with firefighting skills. But even with his many responsibilities as Rota Commander of Yishun Fire Station, design and innovation remain his modus operandi.

Among the projects he’s working on are unmanned aerial vehicles with lifesaving applications. “I think we all want to create tangible change – things that will be implemented; things we can see,” he said. “For me, the SCDF is the best place to do that!”


Public Sector Transformation (PST) Awards 2019
The PST Awards recognise public officers and agencies for excellence in their work and organisational practices. This year's Awards Reception was held on 19 July and saw 80 awards in 13 categories presented to recognise best practices and desired behaviours and values in the Singapore Public Service. Congratulations to our seven Home Team award recipients!

- One Public Service Award: Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, Ministry of Social and Family Development, Public Service Division, Early Childhood Development Agency, GovTech, Health Promotion Board and the Smart National and Digital Government Office, for the Moments of Life app
- Exemplary Leader Award: Goh Eng Joo, MHA
- Exemplary SkillsFuture @ Public Service Award: LTA Yeo Ren Jie, SCDF
- Exemplary SkillsFuture @ Public Service Award: Aileen Yap, Singapore Police Force (SPF)
- Exemplary Innovator Award: Heavy Fire Vessel, SCDF
- Exemplary Service Excellence Award: CW2 Helen Lim, Singapore Prison Service
- Exemplary Service Excellence Award: Staff Sergeant Mohamad Farhan Bin Mohamad Suhaili, SPF

Written by

Soo Jun Xiang


24 July 2019

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