On Assignment
Guardians in Training: Handling the Hazmat Heat
Fighting an industrial fire is no easy task – but our SCDF firefighters are more than up to the task, thanks to their state-of-the-art Diamond Simulator.

20 sept 2018 hazmat training SCDF
ALL PHOTOS: Desmond Ang

The flames grew higher and higher until they almost licked the ceiling. Standing so close, I could feel the heat and envisioned what a real industrial fire would be like. In reality, this was just one of the many fire simulations that are available at the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) state-of-the-art Diamond Simulator.

20 sept 2018 diamond simulator

Realistic and Safe Training Conditions
It was a blazing hot afternoon when I visited the Home Team Tactical Centre (HTTC) to get a hands on experience at the Diamond Simulator, a training facility for Hazardous Materials (HazMat) scenarios. This impressive structure is modeled after a medium-sized chemical processing plant, an industrial structure that’s common in Singapore’s chemical industry.

The SCDF deals with about 150 cases of industrial fires each year. Such fires can be challenging as the conditions for each can vary. And that’s where the Diamond Simulator comes in. 

20 sept 2018 trying on hazmat suit
Completed in 2015, the Diamond Simulator has 12 fire and three leak simulations. Comprising five storeys of storage tanks, snaking pipes, metal grates and staircases, the structure is built of COR-TEN steel, which possesses weathering components that are able to withstand repeated burning, allowing for more efficient training compared to past facilities.

To ensure that training proceeds smoothly, the Simulator is also equipped with numerous close-circuit cameras and safety features. It’s no wonder that the facility has been well-received, not only by SCDF firefighters, but also by international firefighting teams that have trained here. 
 20 sept 2018 hazmat suits

Suiting Up
When it comes to fighting industrial fires, one vital piece of equipment is the HazMat chemical protective suit, which protects wearers from hazardous chemicals, in whatever form. We had the chance to don a HazMat suit with the assistance of SCDF officers. 

The seasoned veterans showed us how to don the boots, suit, breathing mask and gloves. It wasn't easy, but with their help, I managed to put the suit on. At over 20kg, it made even the simplest movement like walking much more difficult.
  20 sept 2018 hazmat training

We were tasked to stop a chemical leak by tightening a thick strap on the side of a storage tank. The only way for us to communicate was by hand signals, and a demonstration by the SCDF officers was completed in less than a minute. 

However, when it came to my turn, I realised that it was no simple task. It was hard to see what I was doing through two masks, and the safety gloves hampered the dexterity of our fingers. By the end of the exercise, I was drenched in sweat inside the suit. 

20 sept 2018 UFM
A remotely-operated UFM advances on a fire at the Diamond Simulator. 

Robots to the Rescue
When it comes to fighting an industrial fire, technology is an important force multiplier and for our final demonstration of the day, we got to see the SCDF’s firefighting robots in action. 

An Unmanned Firefighting Machine (UFM) was activated to put out a fire on the first floor of the Diamond Simulator. Launched in 2015, this remote-operated vehicle features a high-velocity fan to create ventilation in smoke-filled areas, and can fire foam or an intense water mist to extinguish fires. 
  20 sept 2018 PFM
Smaller in size, but still packing a big punch: The PFM in action.

A second robotic platform builds on the UFM concept - the Pumper Firefighting Machine. Not only is it smaller and easier to maneuver, it can pump water up to 50 meters high. The PFM can also approach places (such as the source of a fire) that are unsafe for firefighters. This allows the SCDF to fight higher-risk fires more efficiently, without endangering lives.

Halfway through the demonstration, it started raining heavily. However, the SCDF officers stood their ground. Rain or shine, what came first for them was attending to the case at hand. 

One of the officers at the demonstration was Major Lionel Lee, Head of the HazMat Branch at the SCDF’s Civil Defence Academy. Taking in the scene, he mentioned that he had a hand in designing the Simulator. “Our focus was on safety and realism,” he explained. “By training here, our firefighters will be much more prepared to fight real industrial fires.”

20 sept 2018 hazmat
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  1. by Peggy Tan
  2. 04 October 2018
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