Published: 16 November 2017
Mr Alan Loh, Chairman, National Fire and Civil Emergency Preparedness Council
Commissioner Eric Yap, Singapore Civil Defence Force
Friends and colleagues
Good morning and a warm welcome to our overseas guests.
1. Fires can destroy homes, disrupt lives, and cause significant economic losses. This audience probably is not new to this fact but from time to time, we need to make an effort to remind the public of the risks of fire incidents. We must therefore always find ways to get the message out that we should never take fire safety for granted.
2. We have fire safety standards to ensure adequate protection of lives and properties. These standards must, however, be properly adhered to and kept up to date. Otherwise, they provide no more than a false sense of assurance.
NEW CHALLENGES AND FRONTIERS IN FIRE SAFETY AND EMERGENCY RESPONSE
3. The theme for this year's conference, "New Frontiers in Fire Safety and Emergency Response", is well chosen.
4. In many cities today, the urban landscape includes developments that are more ambitious in design and complex than before. Fire safety regulators and the building community now face increasing challenges in ensuring that urban spaces remain fire safe while allowing innovation and advancement in urban design.
5. One example from Singapore is the upcoming Jewel Changi Airport. This is the development that stands in front of Terminal 1, the one that used to be an open-spaced carpark. The development is codenamed "Jewel". It is designed to provide visitors with seamless travel between Terminals 1, 2 and 3. It is meant to offer visitors a unique leisure and retail experience which is spread over a very large floor area of 134,000 square metres. A key design principle of Jewel Chang Airport is for visitors to experience a sense of vast openness. This is possible through minimising compartments within the building. I think those of you who are active in fire safety will be able to see what the risks are because we are trying to have fewer compartments so that we can achieve that sense of space.
6. We can hope a fire never happens in an iconic project like Jewel Changi Airport or we can plan for it, even if the chances are remote. Therefore, I'm very glad Mr Henry Ho, the fire safety engineer of Jewel Changi Airport, will be sharing with you later today how, through careful planning, Jewel Changi Airport aims to minimize fire hazards and mitigate the impact of a fire, if and when it should happen.
7. For example, a customised smoke-control system will help to retain smoke at a layer above occupied space. In other words, you may have smoke but the smoke control system will try to bring the smoke to a level that is above the layer where people are expected to be moving around. This takes advantage of the openness of the space to prevent premises from becoming smoke-logged and reduce the risk of smoke inhalation. By doing so, occupants, people who are in the building like the staff, the passengers, and people who are coming to meet and greet arriving passengers – we hope that they will also have more time to evacuate safely. This is an important feature because of the building's size – you will need time to get to the exits. This customised smoke-control system is a good example of how fire safety innovation can help to allow urban designs to also incorporate fire safety considerations.
8. Another important consideration, particularly in Singapore, is demographic change. Our population is ageing and as it does, we will also need to update our fire safety standards and emergency responses. For instance, elderly persons must be expected to take more time for evacuation in an emergency, especially in high-rise developments. We must also anticipate a growing demand for emergency medical services, and in fact it is already happening.
9. The Singapore Civil Defence Force, or SCDF, received the highest number of Emergency Medical Services calls in the first half of this year, when compared to the same period in the last five years. The elderly, aged 65 and above, already account for more than one-third of these calls. We must expect our emergency response resources to be further stretched.
10. These challenges call out for more innovation in the way we deliver emergency response services. In May this year, the SCDF unveiled its new Fire-Medical Vehicles. These vehicles are manned by fire fighters who are cross-trained in emergency medical services to provide medical intervention and patient conveyance. In other words, they were originally fire-fighters but we cross-trained them so that they also have the knowledge and skills to perform the emergency medical services and also help to convey the patients to the hospital for example. The integration of these capabilities into a single platform allows the crew of Fire-Medical Vehicles to handle incidents that previously would have required the deployment of both fire-fighting and medical resources. As a result, SCDF can deploy resources more efficiently without compromising the quality of response.
Changes to the Fire Code to Enhance Fire Safety
11. Let me now turn to how we want to keep the Fire Code updated. To ensure that the Singapore Fire Code remains robust and relevant as the operating environment changes, SCDF works closely with various stakeholders, including building professionals, regulatory agencies and academia to review the Fire Code regularly. Every review takes into account the needs of the building industry, the changing building technologies, and most importantly, the safety of occupants.
12. The Fire Code ensures that there are adequate fire safety measures in place to protect lives and properties in the event of a fire. For example, every residential unit in Singapore is built as an individual fire compartment to effectively limit fire spread to adjacent homes. We are very serious about that. As a Member of Parliament on the ground, I sometimes have to explain to my residents why the rules are this way. This has contributed to the relatively low number of residential fire fatalities here. I want to take this opportunity to thank the industry for your diligence in ensuring compliance with the Fire Code so that we can go about our daily activities with assurance, knowing that the places where we work, live, study and play are fire safe.
13. Next year, the SCDF will be launching the eighth edition of the Fire Code, which includes two new requirements – one each for non-residential and residential buildings.
Introduction of the Video Image Fire Detection System
14. First, to enhance fire surveillance of non-residential buildings with large unmanned premises such as storage facilities and warehouses, the industry will be required to adopt the Video Image Fire Detection System.
15. The system uses video analytics and advanced image processing to detect incipient smokes or fires. This means before the fire becomes very big, whilst it is developing. It will thus complement existing fire alarm systems which have smoke and heat detectors.
16. With video imaging, building owners and fire safety managers will be able to quickly ascertain the presence and extent of the fire. With a smoke and heat detector, you know that the alarm has been activated, but you don't really know how big the fire really is. With video imaging, you will be able to do so. With a better way of assessing the extent of the fire, we will activate the appropriate response plans. False alarms can also be easily verified, hence minimising the unnecessary activation of emergency resources.
Introduction of Home Fire Alarm Devices
17. Second, with effect from 1 June 2018, all new homes and existing homes which undergo fire safety works such as renovation works involving a fire-rated door will need to install Home Fire Alarm Devices, or HFADs. These are smoke detectors for homes. Depending on the size and layout of a residential unit, a different number of HFADs will be required. This will be specified in the Fire Code.
18. The HFADs will provide residents with early alerts to incipient smokes or fires, so that they can take steps to quell the fire and prevent it from further spreading, or if that is not possible, to quickly evacuate. This will help prevent residential fire injuries. Given our ageing population, where the elderly may take a longer time to evacuate, early warning from the HFADs will help them prevent injuries to themselves.
19. The requirement for HFADs will apply to building plans submitted after 1 June 2018. The Housing and Development Board or HDB will be installing HFADs in many of its ongoing public housing projects even though these new projects already have building plans submitted before June 2018. I hope that many private developers and existing homeowners will do likewise even though they are perhaps not required to do so.
20. I want to touch specifically on what we intend to do for the residents of our HDB public rental flats. What the HDB and the Government will do is to install HFADs in all of these public rental households at no additional cost to the tenants. We expect this move to take about three years to complete the installation exercises. We will start in June 2018 and will probably last till end 2021. We hope to install HFADs in about 50,000 households. There are around 50,000 public rental flats. All this will be done without additional cost.
21. Today's conference is also an opportunity for us to recognise our partners in the building industry for their commitment to fire safety design. I would like to congratulate the winners of the Fire Safety Design Excellence Awards who have designed buildings with high fire safety standards.
22. It goes without saying that fire safety requires the full support from the building industry. This Conference serves as an important platform to recognise contributions of the industry to fire safety, and to promote learning and partnership to raise fire safety standards and build safer communities.
23. I wish you a very fruitful conference, and a rich exchange of best practices, knowledge and ideas.
24. Thank you.