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A Father Figure at Home and in Uniform
Parent, Marine Firefighting Specialist, Trainer – WO Michael Tan of SCDF explains why he’s committed to giving his trainees his very best.

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GRAPHIC: Home Team News
Trainers – more often than not, we think of them as authoritative, formidable professionals who push us hard to learn and excel. But beneath their tough facades, there's a genuine sense of concern for their trainees as, ultimately, they want to see them blossom, master their skills and sail forth. 

As the proud father of a five-year-old boy, Warrant Officer (WO) Michael Tan not only has “daddy duties” at home, he’s also committed to helping his young trainees achieve their best. A seasoned Marine Instructor with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), WO Michael oversees the training of NSFs and regulars in Advanced Fire-Fighting and Marine Specialist courses. This Father’s Day, he shares what it’s like to be a father figure at home and when he’s in uniform.

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WO Michael Tan at HTTC. Behind him is the ORCA, a Marine Firefighting and Rescue Training Facility where trainees learn to become Marine Firefighting Specialists. PHOTO: Fazlee Rosli

Describe your journey in SCDF.
My inspiration for joining the Home Team came from my stint as a Full-time National Serviceman with SCDF, when I served as a firefighter. I could see the tangible effects of my efforts as I put out fires and saved people from burning buildings. I also didn’t want to be desk-bound, as I like to be hands-on. Suffice to say, this is definitely the right job for me!

June 2020 marks my 24th year in the Life-saving Force. During my first 18 years, I was a frontline firefighter. I served at Serangoon Fire Station for six years before going to Bishan Fire Station. After that, I was transferred to the Civil Defence Academy (CDA). 

What’s your role as a trainer at CDA, and what you do on a regular basis? 
I started as a regular instructor before undergoing the Marine Specialist Course to upgrade myself to become a Marine Instructor. I conduct training sessions at the Home Team Tactical Centre (HTTC), and my trainees are between 18 and 26 years old. I also conduct Advanced Firefighting and Marine Specialist courses for trainees who are going through the Section Commander and Rota Commander courses. 

The Marine Specialist Course is designed to equip SCDF officers with the necessary skills and knowledge to respond to maritime incidents. Over five weeks, we cover subjects such as ship firefighting procedures, high anchoring knowledge, high rescue training, sea survival tactics, water rescue training, ship structures and balancing analysis.  

Pride, rigour and discipline: WO Michael oversees a training session on the ORCA, with special precautions due to COVID-19. PHOTOS: Fazlee Rosli
How do you manage young trainees with different personalities?
First of all, it’s worth noting the differences between the trainees during my time and those we have today. Training methods that were effective in the past may not work with the current generation. The culture during my time as a trainee challenged us both physically and mentally. We had to take whatever was thrown at us. 

With the current generation of trainees, the key is communication. This allows us to reach out to them and establish an understanding. This is integral in building a relationship between trainer and trainees and in creating a conducive environment for them to learn.

I recall a trainee I taught a few years back who was obstinate and set in his ways. I realised that it would be ineffective if I was too tough on him, so I found a quiet moment to pull him aside and lend him a listening ear. 

I found out that the root cause of his behavioural issues was that he was having problems at home. He shared that his parents were on the verge of divorcing, and often neglected him. He felt that there was no one who was there for him, and this caused him to act out. 

We managed to support this trainee through the proper channels, and to ease his burden at home. Sure enough, we began to see a change in him. After he'd completed his training and graduated, he left me a message saying how grateful he was that I’d gone the extra mile to hear him out. 

This goes to show that through communication, we can better understand why some people act the way they do, in order to find an effective solution, collectively.

Do you see any similarities between parenting and managing your trainees?
Definitely! As a father, I seek to nurture my son so that he grows up with the right values. As a trainer, my goal is to impart my knowledge to my trainees so that they have the skills to carry out their frontline duties proficiently. Seeing my trainees sharpen their marine firefighting skills day by day, I don’t just regard myself as their trainer, but also as a father figure.

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Happy days on the homefront: WO Michael with his family. PHOTOS: WO Michael Tan

How would you describe yourself as a parent, and what aspirations do you have for your son?
Although I may occasionally go into “trainer mode” with my son, I wouldn’t say that I’m the garang type at home. As I mentioned, communication is key. In the same way that it can improve the relationship between myself and my trainees, it also helps me to maintain healthy bonds with my son. If I’m too strict or fierce, he won’t share his thoughts with me, and that wouldn’t be a nice thing to have.

Ultimately, my wife and I hope that he’ll grow up to make a positive contribution to society. We’ve agreed that we won’t push him in a direction that doesn’t interest him. As long as he’s happy, we’re happy.

If there’s one word that describes “fatherhood” for you, what would it be?
Pride. The pride of watching your child achieve something new, little by little, and grow into a person you can be proud of. To see their growth as they go through different phases of life – it’s a really wonderful feeling. 

It’s the same feeling we get with trainees because we see them grow from novices when they arrive at HTTC for their very first training session, to their passing out and eventually becoming lifesavers and marine firefighters who make a real difference to Singapore. That’s very fulfilling, and gives us great satisfaction.
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Fazlee Rosli
  2. 19 June 2020
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