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Keep It Real: Incorporating Ground Experience into Training
As Head of the Junior Command Training Branch at the Civil Defence Academy, Major Lok Wee Keong tells us why ground experience is crucial in crafting an effective training methodology.

When it comes to firefighting, Maj Lok has likely seen it all. The 41-year-old was the Commander of Paya Lebar Fire Station and also served as a Platoon Commander for the elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) for over two years. He joined the CDA three years ago and now oversees the training of junior SCDF officers, sharing his knowledge and experience with fledgling officers under his care. 

How did your years of experience help in training the young officers?  
Maj Lok
: We do a lot of sharing, within my capacity as a former fire station commander. I wanted to discuss the cases I’d been through, to give the training more depth.

We also conduct a number of Table-top Exercises (TTXs) and After Action Reviews (AARs). Having actual ground experience meant that we can better facilitate realistic TTXs and share what we’ve learnt in terms of operations, frontline work and rescues.

So rather than telling them what to do in terms of SOPs, you tell them why something is done?
Maj Lok: Right. We’ll tell them, “This is the scenario; you’re the commander. What should you do?” Then they tell us what actions they’ll take and, based on our experience, we’ll offer our views. This leads to further brainstorming and reflection on the trainee’s part.

Given that the challenges we face are evolving, how do you keep your training methods current?
Maj Lok
: We constantly conduct AARs into selected cases that are worth looking into, and we discuss these with trainees based on relevance and timeliness. We also arrange for ground commanders to come and share their experiences.

Here, we focus a lot on adult learning; that means we give trainees the materials and they do their own reading. We facilitate their self-learning, and this also helps us find out more about how they make decisions, as future leaders.

We also facilitate AARs with our trainers to look into how we can better conduct our lessons and exercises, to enhance our training curriculum.

After three years as a trainer, you must have some interesting observations about what it takes to do well in an actual operation.
Maj Lok: Sometimes trainees do well in a TTX but don’t consider all the variables in an actual operation. On the other hand, some trainees who don’t do well in a TTX excel on the ground. There are different factors at play, and it’s something we study, so that we can help them do their best.

Is there a winning mentality that trainees should adopt in order to excel in their learning?
Maj Lok: They must be willing to accept constructive feedback. As trainers, we’re still moving towards a stage where we can better facilitate their learning, but trainees need to be willing to learn. This positive attitude is most important. If you’re willing to learn, we’ll be there for you.

The CDA is the premier training institution of the Singapore Civil Defence Force. It began operations in 1999 to conduct all professional and specialised training in the field of civil defence. The academy conducts a wide range of training courses on disaster management, firefighting, urban search and rescue, detection and mitigation of hazardous materials, and pre-hospital medical care operations.

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


  1. by Desmond Ang
  2. 22 February 2018
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