On Assignment
Learning to Lead
A seven-month journey of resilience and leadership, SCDF's Rota Commander Course is a vital training ground for its frontline officers.

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LTA Taran Franck (in yellow) at a training session for his team at Bukit Batok Fire Station. PHOTOS: Soo Jun Xiang

“We’re so proud of you!”

Even without the usual fanfare, the moment was special for the Officer Cadets of the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) 21st Rota Commander Course (RCC). On 18 June 2020, with their Commissioning Parade cancelled due to COVID-19 measures, the Officer Cadets received well-wishes from their loved ones on-screen at the Civil Defence Academy.

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SCDF Officer Cadets receive their hard-won epaulettes at the RCC Commissioning Ceremony. 

As their names were called one by one, the Officer Cadets stepped on-stage to receive a ceremonial fireman’s axe from SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap. This simple act marked the completion of their gruelling seven-month RCC journey and the start of their career as Commissioned Senior Officers. 

Rite of Passage
For Lieutenant (LTA) Taran Franck, now a Rota Commander at Bukit Batok Fire Station, receiving his epaulettes was the fulfilment of a long personal journey. Having spent his childhood in Singapore, he moved to the United Kingdom in his teens to attend boarding school. 

Yet LTA Taran always maintained a connection to Singapore, returning home whenever he could. Knowing that National Service awaited as an inevitable rite of passage, he prepared himself during his school days by becoming a member of the Combined Cadet Force (CCF), a uniformed organisation for youths in the United Kingdom. 

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SCDF’s 21st RCC cohort included LTA Taran and 44 other Officer Cadets, six of whom were international cadets from other countries.

LTA Taran’s four years in CCF served him in good stead when he returned to Singapore in 2019 to begin his Basic Military Training. “It felt strange when I finally had my hair cut as a fresh recruit,” he recalled. “But I soon found more crossover with CCF than I expected, mentally and physically. From the way that I held a rifle to how formations worked – my experience helped me adapt faster than others.” 

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At Bukit Batok Fire Station, LTA Taran prepares for the day’s duties while drawing on the lessons from his RCC days.

The challenges of field camp on Pulau Tekong strengthened LTA Taran’s resolve to give his very best. “Heat rash, bogged down by our gear, digging shellscrapes – I felt completely alone on some nights,” he recalled. “But this helped me to see the resilience of my platoon-mates, and watching them pull through helped me to tough it out as well.”

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Practice makes perfect when it comes to saving lives. 

Becoming a Lifesaver
After completing his Basic Military Training, LTA Taran was posted to the Civil Defence Academy for further training. “Honestly, being selected for RCC came as a surprise,” he said. “I had absolutely no clue about firefighting or lifesaving, but I decided to go into it with an open mind, and learn as much as I could.”

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RCC is a rigorous, seven-month programme designed to inculcate critical leadership attributes and lifesaving skills in SCDF officers who will take on frontline duties. Officer Cadets comprise both Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs, which made up two-thirds of the 21st cohort) and regular officers.

The intensified training regime prompted LTA Taran to raise his physical conditioning at the gym. This helped him overcome another major challenge faced by the Officer Cadets – becoming acclimatised to and operating in the firefighters’ bunker gear. 

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“The weight, warmth and limited movement and visibility – these were all completely new to me,” recalled LTA Taran of the first time he wore the full firefighting attire. “We had to build up an entirely different form of endurance to keep up. Many of us struggled, but we continued supporting one another. In the end, this helped get us through the intense training.”

Lifesavers’ Bond 
This sense of team spirit enabled the NSFs and regular officers to bond as one cohesive unit. “As an NSF, I sometimes felt like I needed to work harder to prove myself,” said LTA Taran. “But the regular officers were all selfless and glad to help whenever any of us needed it. With all the challenges that we faced during RCC, we came together.”

One highlight for LTA Taran was the field camp in Brunei during their 11th week of training. Over four long days, the Officer Cadets cooked their own meals, trained, kayaked, hiked and navigated through the jungle as a team. The training culminated in an intense, 11km team run. “That was when we truly strengthened our bond,” he said.

With the arrival of COVID-19 in February 2020, the Officer Cadets took the necessary safety measures in their stride, wearing masks and training in smaller groups. Undaunted, they pushed on to complete their RCC training and become professional lifesavers. 

Leading on the Frontline
LTA Taran now brings this same determination to his work on the frontline. As a Rota Commander based at Bukit Batok Fire Station, he’s in charge of a Rota that does a 24-hour duty shift every three days. Less than a month into his new role, he’s already helped to fight several major fires and assisted during other emergencies.

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Having last met LTA Taran at the RCC Commissioning Ceremony in June, I caught up with him this week as he put his men through their paces. After the morning equipment check, he took part in a Hazmat training session. The firefighters also worked on drills, connecting hydrants to pump ladders while refining their skills with various firefighting equipment. 

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Regular training and drills are part of the daily routine at any fire station.
 
After completing his National Service, LTA Taran will apply for his university studies, but for now, he’s keen to apply his skills as a lifesaver on the frontline. 

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LTA Taran’s greatest takeaway from RCC? A lesson on leadership, which he seeks to embody as a Rota Commander. “It’s a two-way street,” he explained during a break in the training. “You need to understand your men’s strengths while also being able to lead by example. Leadership isn’t about the epaulettes on your shoulder or the appointment you hold. At the end of the day, it’s about whether your men trust and follow you. Ultimately, we succeed as a team.”
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Soo Jun Xiang
  2. 24 July 2020
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