Published: 11 September 2017
Dr Lim Wee Kiak: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) how often are hawker centres checked for fire safety compliance; (b) what is the breakdown of such fires from 2015 till July this year; (c) what are the common causes of these fires; and (d) what can be done to address fire hazards at hawker centres.
1. The Fire Code stipulates that hawker centres need to have hose reels and fire extinguishers, and adequate, unimpeded access to facilitate escape in the event of a fire. There are also regulations on the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking, and cleaning requirements for kitchen exhaust ducts.
2. SCDF adopts a risk-based approach to conducting fire safety compliance checks. Hawker centres are generally assessed to be of lower fire risk as their open-sided design ensures that they are well ventilated, facilitating smoke venting and minimising smoke logging in the event of fire. SCDF conducts checks on hawker centres on an ad hoc basis in response to feedback from the public as well as other government agencies such as NEA. Over the past three years, SCDF conducted 13 such checks on hawker centres. This is on top of routine inspections conducted by the NEA and the Town Councils, and servicing conducted by their appointed contractors which ensure the exhaust systems and ducts are well maintained and in good working order.
3. Common causes of hawker centre fires are the accumulation of grease within poorly-maintained kitchen exhaust ducts which ignite during the cooking process, stallholders leaving their cooking unattended, and forgetting to switch off appliances at the end of the day.
4. There were 32 hawker centre fires from January 2015 to July 2017. There were no fatalities. Five of these cases resulted in casualties and the fires were mainly caused by overheating because of unattended cooking. This could have been prevented. SCDF has also conducted comprehensive inspections to ensure the fire safety of these affected hawker centres.
5. A large number of hawker centre fires can be prevented. As part of its Community Emergency Preparedness Programme, SCDF partners NEA to educate stallholders on how to prevent and respond to fire emergencies. SCDF has also implemented mitigating measures to reduce the risk of fires in hawker centres. For instance, SCDF, with HDB and the Town Councils, have worked together to replace all individual LPG cylinders in hawker centres with safer centralised LPG pipeline manifold systems or Town Gas.
6. Hawker centre owners and stallholders also have a part to play. They can prevent fires by thoroughly cleaning their kitchen exhaust ducts at least once a year, not leaving cooking unattended, and switching off all appliances when they leave for the day.