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MHA COS 2018: 995, What’s Your Emergency?
How the Singapore Civil Defence Force has strengthened its Emergency Medical Service capabilities.

During the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) Committee of Supply (COS) Debate, Minister K Shanmugam, Second Minister Josephine Teo and Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin shared the Home Team’s plans to deal with future challenges in keeping our home safe and secure.

These included the Home Team’s push to renew and strengthen its capabilities by using technology to improve its effectiveness and investing in Home Team officers so that they can perform their roles effectively.

In Part 3 of our feature on MHA’s COS Debate, we look at the work of the SCDF’s Operations (Ops) Centre Specialists - the highly trained professionals who provide critical guidance to distressed callers.

An eye on Singapore: The SCDF Ops Centre, which operates on rotational shifts, handles an average of 800 to 1,000 calls per day. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

The SCDF’s Ops Centre Specialists are often the first point of contact for members of the public in need of emergency assistance or who are reporting fire, rescue or medical incidents.

“We see every incident island-wide and we play a part in ensuring that we maintain the safety and security of the people of Singapore,” said Captain (CPT) Shawn Tan, 29, a Rota Commander at the SCDF’s Ops Centre.

The Technological Edge

CPT Shawn’s team of Ops Centre Specialists is based at the SCDF’s Headquarters in Ubi. Every call is given due attention and care as each could be a matter of life and death.

Home Team News
Connected: CPT Shawn Tan joined the SCDF three years ago is a proud member of the team at the SCDF Ops Centre. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

But not all calls are life or death scenarios; that’s where telephone medical triaging comes in. Ops Centre Specialists are also trained to conduct effective telephone medical triaging by gathering enough information to classify the severity of each call, so that emergency resources can be prioritised where they are most needed.

The SCDF Ops Centre taps on a network of CCTV cameras installed island-wide, providing Ops Centre Specialists with crucial information such as traffic data and visual updates of incident sites. This allows them to accurately assess an incident before SCDF emergency teams arrive, saving precious seconds that are often crucial in life-saving.

They are also able to track and dispatch emergency resources so that the nearest available resource will be activated to arrive at the shortest time possible.

Home Team News
Ops Centre Specialists speak a variety of languages including English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil.

Trained Professionals, Ready to Serve 24/7


“Many callers will likely have a life-and-death situation that they need us to help them with. At times, we also have to deal with our own emotions, especially during incidents involving young children. That is what affects our Ops Centre Specialists the most, because some of them are parents,” said CPT Shawn.

One such call was taken by Warrant Officer 2 (WO2) Siti Zarinah Sarip a few years ago. Having served five years as an Ops Centre Specialist, little fazed the mother of four. But on the other end of one call she received were the panicked parents of a teenage boy who was neither conscious nor breathing.

WO2 Siti assessed that the teenager, who had a chronic illness, was experiencing cardiac arrest triggered by his ailment. “The first thing I did was teach them how to do Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation. The father was able to do it; he was very focused,” recalled the 38-year-old. “The thing that struck me emotionally was when I heard the parents say, ‘Son, wake up, please; you must wake up for us, don’t leave us’.”

30 Jan 18 SCDF Ops Centre WO2 Siti
WO2 Siti Zarinah Sarip, a seasoned Paramedic, has been with the SCDF for 18 years. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

Mindful of the challenges faced by her team, CPT Shawn offers them words of comfort and advice: “I try to encourage them to see that they’ve done their best, and that they have to maintain themselves so that they can help the next person who calls.”

What keeps this team of professionals going is the satisfaction of helping others. “Our work is very different from most jobs. The kind of responsibility that we have is something rare, and it gives us fulfilment each time when we handle a case carefully and positively, and people’s lives are saved,” she added. “Some of the callers even write back to thank us.”

This sentiment was echoed by WO2 Siti. “The best thing about this job is that we can help people while they are waiting for the ambulance to come, because that’s a crucial moment when they need support,” she said. “Every second counts in an emergency, and if we can help them for even one second, we will.” 

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Desmond Ang
  2. 08 March 2018
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