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SCDF’s DART Specialists: For the Cause, Not the Applause
A height rescue by SCDF’s DART Specialists demonstrates how constant, rigorous training helps them take on high-risk lifesaving operations.

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Nerves of steel: SSGT Faris during a rope rescue training session at Paya Lebar Fire Station. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

As dark clouds gathered over Paya Lebar Fire Station, I watched as a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer suspended three stories high took a step backward in empty space, then lower himself to the ground with ropes.

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PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli
A Specialist with SCDF’s Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART), he was just one member of this specialist unit in action that afternoon. Such heart-stopping drills are routine for DART officers, and are conducted from 2pm to 6pm every 24-hour shift. 

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It takes more than a sudden shower to deter DART Specialists from their training. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

DART specialises in complex height-and-depth rescue operations, such as the one following the collapse of the Nicoll Highway in 2004. DART duties also encompass prolonged firefighting operations, industrial emergencies and water rescue operations, as well as overseas rescue missions (known as Operation Lionheart). Given the team's unique skills, DART also supports lifesaving operations at major accidents. 

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SSGT Muhammad Faris (left) has been a DART Specialist for a year while WO1 Firdaus Tay has been a DART Specialist for five years. 

Explaining the challenges of a technical height rescue to me at Paya Lebar Fire Station were Staff Sergeant (SSGT) Muhammad Faris and First Warrant Officer (WO1) Firdaus Tay. According to the two DART Specialists, such exercises – in addition to drills for water, confined space and urban search and rescue operations – help them prepare for action at a moment’s notice – “Because a crisis can strike at any time,” said SSGT Faris.

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Constant practice: DART Specialists during a height rescue drill. PHOTOS: Fazlee Rosli

Height Rescue – 10 Stories Up
On 7 September 2020, SSGT Faris and WO1 Firdaus were called into action at a condominium construction site at How Sun Drive. A construction worker had injured himself and was stranded on a tower crane 10 stories (or 40m) in the air. 

A DART team comprises eight officers – a Rota Commander, a Deputy Rota Commander, three Section Commanders and three Rescue Specialists. Arriving at the construction site, Section Commander WO1 Firdaus formulated a rescue plan and briefed his team. As four Specialists prepared a basket stretcher on the ground, WO1 Firdaus ascended the crane with SSGT Faris and two other Specialists. 

Working at this extreme height, SSGT Faris knew it was vital to stay composed. As he inched closer to the worker along a narrow pylon of the crane, he saw that the worker was bleeding from an open wound that stretched from his left hip to his ankle.

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In the air: DART Specialists swiftly executing their duties to lower a construction worker from a 40m-tall tower crane. PHOTOS: SCDF

Cross-trained as an Emergency Medical Technician, SSGT Faris stopped the bleeding before administering oxygen to the worker. “At that moment, I was focused on attending to his injuries as quickly and gently as I possibly could,” he recalled.

Once readied, the stretcher was hoisted up to SSGT Faris by the DART Specialists on the ground. SSGT Faris helped to place the worker onto the stretcher, securing him with multiple restraints for his safety. Attaching himself to the stretcher, he then signalled to the DART Specialists below him. 

Buffeted by the wind, SSGT Faris descended 40m to the ground, monitoring the worker’s condition all the way down. 

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On the ground: Every second is crucial during a rescue operation. PHOTOS: SCDF

As soon as SSGT Faris landed on the ground, the other Specialists unbuckled the worker from the stretcher and an ambulance immediately conveyed him to the hospital for medical attention. The entire operation had taken about an hour. 

Recalling the events of that afternoon, SSGT Faris’ thoughts were for the worker they’d put themselves at risk to rescue. “The lowering only took a few minutes, but for someone who’d sustained injuries, it can feel much longer,” he shared. 

Rigorous Training 
Complex rescues like this require specialised skills, peak fitness and nerves of steel – qualities honed through long hours of training and a rigorous selection process that pushes aspiring DART Specialists to their limit. 

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Not for the claustrophobic: SSGT Faris navigating an enclosed space in his DART Firefighting Suit. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

SCDF officers who apply for the annual DART selection are put through a gruelling series of tests over 36 hours. These include a height confidence test and a confined space test. 

“For me, the greatest challenge was the water confidence test, which required us to perform rescue techniques in a pool at the Home Team Tactical Centre,” said SSGT Faris. “As I was doing my tasks, I kept reminding myself why I wanted to be a DART Specialist, and to not give up.”

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Team dynamics: Working together as a well-oiled machine. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

Another quality that sustains DART Specialists is their deep sense of camaraderie. “Speed is essential during an operation, but so is safety,” explained WO1 Firdaus. “When we’re in the thick of the action, we make sure that no safety checks are overlooked, and we constantly watch out for one another.”

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On his shoulders: WO1 Firdaus with a 35kg dummy during training. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

As the skies over Paya Lebar Fire Station cleared, the DART Specialists began to prepare for yet another height rescue drill. Thanking me for coming by, WO1 Firdaus explained why he’s driven to give his best: “I do this work because saving lives is my cause, and not for the applause.”
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Fazlee Rosli
  2. 30 October 2020
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