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The Busing Blaze: Young Firefighters to the Fore
Regardless of rank or role, all hands were on deck to fight the massive oil tank fire at Pulau Busing.

On 20 March 2018, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was alerted to a massive oil tank fire at Pulau Busing, an island off the southern coast of Singapore that houses oil and chemical storage facilities. For many of the firefighters who responded to the incident, this was the biggest fire that they’d encountered.

A total of 128 personnel were involved in the massive operation, which included Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), two Operationally-Ready National Servicemen and one Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit member. Amongst the more experienced SCDF officers that night were the younger NSF firefighters – they share their take on being part of such a large-scale operation.

Bringing Out the “Big Guns”

The fire on Pulau Busing required special equipment to extinguish it, and the clock was ticking. A total of 31 firefighting and support vehicles were deployed for the operation. This included two large monitors that can discharge up to 6,000 gallons of foam per minute. Also known as “big guns”, these powerful machines can only be found at the two fire stations on Jurong Island.

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SCDF officers demonstrating how they operate the large monitor, also known as a “big gun”. PHOTO: Mabel Yap


To transport the firefighting vehicles and support equipment to Pulau Busing, the SCDF arranged for a barge (a flat-bottomed boat used to ferry various goods). “Offshore is definitely more challenging than onshore, because of the time needed for transport,” said Colonel Alan Chow, Commander of SCDF’s 1st Division. “Any delay meant that the oil tank would continue burning. Tank failure would have become even more imminent.”

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Three of the NSFs who were involved in the Busing Blaze (from left): Sgt Muhammad Hud Ayub, LTA Jerome Giam and Sgt Afiq Abdul Malik. PHOTO: Muhamad Khair


Fight or Flight
The firefighters arrived at Pulau Busing to find the evening sky lit by flames. Fighting his first-ever oil tank fire was Sergeant (Sgt) Muhammad Hud Ayub who felt an “adrenaline rush” as he was deployed for the operation – it was the biggest fire that the 19-year-old firefighter had responded to in his nine months as an NSF. The composed Fire and Rescue Specialist was in the thick of the action as he carried out duties as a Section Commander of Alexandra Fire Station, with three men under him. 

"I felt the radiant heat when I got nearer to the site," he said. “But this was the least of my worries.”

One major challenge for the firefighters as they moved forward was the radiant heat coming from the affected oil tank. This made the temperature of two tanks close to the blaze rise to extreme levels, so thermal imagers and five unmanned water monitors were deployed to ensure that the oil tanks didn’t catch fire.

All Hands on Deck

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The massive blaze that firefighters had to extinguish that night. PHOTOS: SCDF


As the blaze raged on, the public caught a rare glimpse of ground zero when SCDF shared photos of the firefighters online. The photos showed the officers taking turns to recuperate and looking drained from the intense operation.

“We grabbed whatever bottle of water we could,” said Sgt Afiq Abdul Malik, a Section Commander with the Special Rescue Unit (SRU). “It tasted like heaven.”

 
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SCDF officers recuperating before springing back into action. PHOTO: SCDF


“Even though we needed the rest, we were uneasy because the fire was still blazing,” said the 23-year-old. “We just had to see things from afar and trust our men.”

His colleague, Lieutenant (LTA) Jerome Giam, added: “We knew that our guys inside the fire ground were exhausted, so we replenished our fluids and grabbed a bite before going back in to take over.”

Together, Sgt Afiq and LTA Giam managed the hoses used to fight the fire. As a Platoon Commander, LTA Giam supervised three sections headed by Section Commanders like Sgt Afiq, who relayed instructions to their own team of officers. They ensured that pressure in the hoses remained at optimal levels for firefighting. 

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Profiles in courage: Just a few of the young firefighters who fought the flames at Pulau Busing. PHOTO: Muhamad Khair


The “Fire” That Burned Brighter
Even after the fire was extinguished at midnight, operations still went on, with some officers staying on to transfer the flammable contents of the oil tank out to an unaffected one, preventing the fire from rekindling – an effort which carried on till the next day. 

The operation was wrapped up without a hitch, with no casualties reported. The Busing blaze was indeed a test that our firefighters didn’t back down, and their spirit burned brighter than the flames they were fighting.

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


  1. by Muhamad Khair
  2. 12 April 2018
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