Published: 14 April 2023
My colleagues Josephine and Faishal
Home Team Colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good evening to all of you.
1. I’m really happy to see everyone here this evening, at this Garden Reception for the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). We have our volunteers and partners from various Home Team Boards, Councils and Committees – all of whom have been strong supporters of the SCDF through the years.
2. Tomorrow, 15 April, marks SCDF Day.
3. On this day, in 1989, the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Singapore Fire Service merged to form SCDF. It turns 34 tomorrow.
4. This came after the collapse of Hotel New World. The Government saw the need to integrate their functions, improve coordination, and strengthen the capabilities.
5. In the years after, SCDF built itself up – improving its operational capabilities, developing a strong culture and identity, and improving its training and building new training facilities.
6. At the same time, over the years, SCDF has been facing new challenges. For instance, as Singapore developed, taller skyscrapers were built, and deeper, more complex underground facilities – a more challenging terrain, for SCDF’s response. There has also been growing demand for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) due to our ageing population.
7. SCDF realised that in order sto overcome these challenges, transformation has to become part a key part of its DNA.
Transformation: A Nation of Lifesavers
8. Against this backdrop, in 2015, SCDF embarked on a 10-year transformation journey towards a Nation of Lifesavers.
9. We have seen some of the results. In 2015, at the Ministry Headquarters, we discussed not just SCDF, but other agencies. It was a very ambitious plan, from where we were, to where we wanted to be. The results, you can see some of them, as I have said.
10. The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in firefighting operations is a clear example. UAVs are very useful in providing SCDF with a bird’s-eye-view of major fires. The electro-optic and infrared cameras on the UAVs provide valuable information on casualties and hazards that may not be easily visible to the naked eye.
11. Another example – and this is even more difficult – is how SCDF has transformed its partnerships with the community. The myResponder app was launched in 2015. It alerts Community First Responders to suspected cases of cardiac arrest and minor fires within 400 metres of their location. Today, we have more than 130,000 registered responders. Between 2018 and 2022, they responded to more than 4,500 cardiac arrest cases and more than 3,100 minor fires.
12. At the same time, SCDF has rolled out automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) across the island – and we have a target of one for every two HDB blocks. We will be doing the same with fire extinguishers. These will allow Community First Responders to respond even more effectively to cardiac arrest and fire cases.
13. The transformation efforts are being recognised. For example, last year, the SCDF was awarded the prestigious Business Transformation Award by the Public Service Division. This is one of the top Public Service Transformation Awards given out each year.
14. The organisation also enjoys a high level of public trust. In the Home Team Public Perception Survey 2021, over 90% of the respondents said they have trust in the SCDF. Respondents also give SCDF very high ratings – more than 90%, for its performance in managing firefighting and rescue situations.
Our People, Our Pride
15. We can buy or we can develop the most modern and sophisticated hardware and technology, but the most critical ingredient, as we always emphasise in the transformation process and the organisation’s success, is really, the people.
16. Developing the operational readiness of our officers has been a top priority across Home Team Departments, including SCDF. And in SCDF, this is achieved through robust and rigorous training in both skills and knowledge.
17. The officers go through vocational training before being deployed, and also go through regular operational drills and exercises to upkeep their skills.
18. Every year, these skills are validated through assessments and tests.
19. And that is supported by heavy investments in training infrastructure, including simulation systems that create realistic training environments. For example, mock-ups of bus interchanges and underground MRT stations.
20. Last year, SCDF completed the Emergency Responders’ Fitness Conditioning & Enhancement Lab, or EXCEL in short. EXCEL collects and analyses the physiological and cognitive data of officers. And that allows SCDF to better condition officers for different terrains, and identify individual strengths and weaknesses for more targeted training.
Dedication and Professionalism
21. Through this process, SCDF also tries to instil a high level of commitment and professionalism in its officers.
22. We saw this during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as during disaster relief operations under Operation Lionheart.
23. During COVID-19, we were in the thick of dealing with the pandemic, and one of the challenges that SCDF faced, was the sharp increase in workload for EMS.
24. Compared to 2019, EMS calls increased by almost 35%, to almost 260,000 calls in 2022, or around 700 calls on average per day. Our EMS officers had to work long hours to respond to these calls, almost all of which were said to be urgent.
25. They had to do so wearing their full protective gear, which is hot and uncomfortable. And not to mention – the risk of possibly getting infected, because they were really at the frontline.
26. Beyond those core duties, SCDF also supported the national effort in several other ways.
27. In the early days, when COVID-19 was still seen as a mysterious and unknown virus, SCDF officers stepped forward to conduct temperature screening for arriving passengers at Changi Airport. There were lots of uncertainty at that point, and some felt that Changi was one of the least safe places in Singapore.
28. SCDF also supported the Testing Operations at Quarantine Facilities, where, again, there was a high risk of potentially getting infected.
29. SCDF ran a Government Quarantine Facility at the former HomeTeamNS Sembawang, and set up a temporary Migrant Worker dormitory at the Civil Defence Academy to accommodate migrant workers who had to be moved out of their dorms, because the dorms were experiencing outbreaks.
30. So, we have to say a very big thank you to all the SCDF officers for serving Singapore with bravery and commitment during the pandemic.
Operation Lionheart Contingent
31. I also want to acknowledge the contributions of the Operation Lionheart contingents. They are deployed to provide search and rescue, as well as humanitarian relief assistance, to countries affected by disasters.
32. In November of last year, a team of 16 officers went to New South Wales, to support the local emergency responders in flood rescue operations.
33. Two months ago, the Operation Lionheart contingent went to Adana in Türkiye in the aftermath of the massive earthquake there. The team worked tirelessly. They looked for trapped survivors, and the operating conditions and terrain was difficult. They experienced harsh winter temperatures at night, falling below zero.
34. Our officers are not used to these, but their efforts made a big difference in the overall operations, and they also successfully rescued survivors – a couple of them, including a 12-year-old boy. They assisted the local emergency authority to assess sites for survivors, and provide medical care to casualties.
35. When I welcomed them back at the airport, I could feel the sense of fulfilment and pride in our officers.
36. And, a contingent of persons from the Turkish community in Singapore were there as well, together with the Turkish Ambassador. They were truly grateful. The Turkish Ambassador made a speech, and some of the persons of Turkish nationality, residents here, were in tears.
37. So really, we are all very proud of you. And we thank you for stepping forward to help others in times of need, and flying the Singapore flag high.
38. Day to day, SCDF officers put the public at the heart of everything they do, and their actions reflect SCDF’s core values of Pride and Care.
39. Today, we will give out the Pride and Care Star Awards to officers who have done exceptionally well in exemplifying these values.
40. The recipient of this year’s Pride and Care Star Award (Platinum) is Captain Jadyn Toh. Over the past few years, Jadyn has actively served the public even outside of working hours. While off-duty, she responded to three fire cases through the myResponder app, and helped a young boy whose foot was stuck in an escalator. She calmed and assured the boy and the parents – who needed even more assurance – and despite pressure from on-lookers who were gathering, not so much to help, but take pictures and videos. She is a Course Commander in the Civil Defence Academy, where she is a caring mentor to her cadets, and she puts in extra effort to engage them and to groom them into exemplary officers.
41. Our Full-time National Servicemen (NSF) and Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) also play a key role in keeping Singapore safe.
42. Tonight, we present the NSF of the Year Award to Sergeant Andrew Chua. Andrew has displayed composure and leadership in the face of crisis. In 2021, he attended to a major fire involving a laboratory. He took command at the onset of the incident and delegated tasks effectively to his team, and that led to the fire being dealt with quickly. It was put out. Andrew has also made a big impact on the morale at his fire station. He volunteered to be an NSF Peer Supporter, providing emotional support to help other NSFs when they were facing challenges. When fire station Open Houses were suspended during COVID-19, Andrew hosted virtual public engagement sessions for Tampines Fire Station on Saturdays. He has received very good feedback from the public for the way he has been able to share his experiences.
43. These are just examples of a couple of recipients.
44. To all our SCDF officers, NSFs, NSmen and Regulars, thank you for your unwavering commitment to the safety of Singapore and Singaporeans.
45. SCDF has made significant progress in its transformation journey. You have come very far.
46. I have set out how SCDF has transformed, how it has become an excellent organisation. I have, myself, seen it in the last seven years. You can see the changes, year by year.
47. Such transformations are only possible with outstanding leadership, and I will mention Commissioner Eric Yap – Leading by example, exercising clear leadership qualities, focused, determined. Good planning, but not only that, good execution as well.
48. Officers know that Eric is a Commissioner who knows what is going on on the ground, and knows what he is doing. And he and his very able team of senior leaders have been largely responsible for the transformation, by being able to execute it, and more importantly, getting the men and women to buy in to the transformation. So, we say a big thank you to Eric and his team.
49. I am confident that SCDF will continue to uphold the very high standards that it has achieved, and transform and improve further to achieve the vision of a Nation of Lifesavers.
50. I wish everyone a pleasant evening. Thank you.