Published: 17 April 2015
Commissioner Eric Yap,
Officers of the Singapore Civil Defence Force,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to join you today at SCDF’s Workplan Seminar.
2. Three weeks ago, Singapore mourned the loss of our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. We were deeply saddened by his passing, and there was a public outpouring of emotion. Equally, we were inspired, and our morale was uplifted, by the spirit of unity and selflessness that we saw displayed by Singaporeans and officers from the Home Team and other government agencies. SCDF officers, CDAU members and CD Lionhearters worked tirelessly to provide support at Parliament House and other locations during the Lying in State, Community Tributes and the State Funeral Procession and Service. SCDF officers worked well past duty hours, and went beyond the call of duty, exemplifying the dedication that the SCDF is known for. Singaporeans are grateful for your sacrifice, which has reinforced their faith in a capable, committed and trustworthy Home Team. Let us continue to live up to that trust by keeping Singapore safe and secure – an important foundation upon which Mr Lee Kuan Yew built our nation.
THE FORMATIVE YEARS OF THE SCDF
3. This is a milestone year for Singapore as we mark our 50th year of independence. In conjunction with SG50, let me take this opportunity to thank all the SCDF pioneers, many of whom are in the audience today, for their contributions in forming, building and shaping the SCDF into the Force that it is today. Some of these pioneers continue to serve in various capacities, such as volunteering as guides at the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery. The Force is indebted to the pioneer generation who had been tireless in their efforts to build an organisation that is now proudly known as the Life Saving Force.
4. Our progress from Third World to First World has been achieved within a short span of less than 50 years. Likewise, SCDF has transformed itself into an innovative and forward-looking organisation over a relatively short period of time. SCDF was formed in 1989 through the merger of the Singapore Fire Service and Civil Defence after the Hotel New World collapse. The SCDF has since evolved to become a comprehensive fire and rescue organisation with capabilities spanning across areas such as HazMat, marine fire-fighting and urban search and rescue. SCDF was the first Asian fire and rescue department to attain the INSARAG “heavy” classification in 2008, which is the highest level of urban search and rescue capabilities. Since then, SCDF has been called upon by numerous foreign counterparts, from countries such as China and Korea, to assist them in attaining this classification.
5. Today, the SCDF has a total of 49 fire stations and fire posts located across the island, compared to 12 fire stations in 1989. Supporting these fire stations and fire posts are two training schools, four Civil Defence Land Divisions and a Marine Command. The Marine Command is the latest addition, established just three years ago, in 2012, taking over the maritime fire-fighting capabilities from the Maritime and Port Authority and further building on them.
6. The demands on the SCDF continue to grow. In 2014, the SCDF responded to over 160,000 emergency calls involving fire and rescue incidents as well as emergency medical cases; about 430 emergency calls daily. Although this is a significant increase of about 30% from 5 years ago, SCDF has managed to continue to respond promptly and effectively. In the recent Public Perception Survey, conducted by Degree Census Consultancy Pte Ltd in December 2013, 98% of the respondents expressed confidence in SCDF’s ability to manage emergencies. This is a record result for the SCDF since the survey was first conducted in 1998. Well done to the SCDF and all our officers!
OPERATIONAL CHALLENGES – DRIVERS FOR TRANSFORMATION
7. Looking ahead, SCDF must continue to adapt to an evolving operating environment, with terrorism continuing to be a key concern. The recent terror attacks in Paris and Sydney are a sombre reminder that we cannot afford to let our guard down. Closer to home, the Indonesian and Malaysian authorities have also recently arrested persons with suspected links to the ISIS. The development of Singapore’s economy with continued growth in the petrochemical, biomedical and maritime industries, as well as increasing urbanisation and population density, will present new challenges for SCDF, particularly in how it conducts its operations in this new terrain.
8. Our changing demographics pose another challenge for the SCDF. The population will continue to grow, and more significantly there will be more elderly persons. This will in turn place increasing pressure on SCDF’s services, particularly the Emergency Medical Services. However, there are limits to how much SCDF can grow its manpower, given the smaller cohorts of Singaporeans entering the workforce. Hence, SCDF needs to fundamentally review its concept of operations by enhancing prevention, ensuring operational excellence and readiness, and strengthening community partnerships. These are the key pillars that underpin SCDF’s transformational vision of Singapore as ‘A Nation of Life Savers’ by 2025.
THE NEXT LAP - A NATION OF LIFE SAVERS
Focus 1: Enhance Prevention and Public Protection
9. Firstly, we must enhance prevention measures to reduce the number of fire incidents per year.
10. Many fire incidents, including major fire incidents that SCDF responds to, can be prevented. It is important that building owners and members of the public recognise this – that fires can be prevented and minimised through a combination of safety and protection measures and having the right mindset to avoid needless loss of lives and damage to property. It is imperative that building owners adhere to fire safety regulations, such as ensuring that the amount of flammable materials stored in premises does not exceed permitted limits. Business owners can do their part by ensuring their employees receive training in fire safety awareness, to learn how to implement fire prevention habits and how to put out incipient fires early. On its part, SCDF will continue to work with building owners and the general public on these measures. SCDF will also work with other government agencies to step up its enforcement measures in areas such as Geylang and Little India.
Focus 2: Ensure Operational Excellence and Readiness
11. Secondly, SCDF must sustain operational excellence and readiness, not just to meet today’s challenges, but also to ensure that its operational capabilities remain effective for the future. SCDF has a well-established culture of innovation to develop new fire fighting and rescue equipment to suit the local operating environment, such as the Red Rhino and the Personnel Decontamination Vehicle. I understand that SCDF is exploring the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to enhance their sense-making during firefighting, rescue and HazMat incidents This capability will allow SCDF to do an aerial mapping of the incident sites and have a better appreciation of the risks so as to better plan the safe and effective deployment of officers during operations. I look forward to seeing this later at the exhibition.
12. Technology deployment is just one part of the equation. We need to constantly exercise our emergency response plans and procedures, as a cohesive unit at the Home Team and at the Whole-of-Government level.
13. The Northstar series of exercises, introduced by the SCDF, provides an excellent platform to test the Whole-of Government response to an emergency situation. Since 1997, the Northstar exercises have tested and validated contingency plans for various scenarios ranging from a cruise ship fire to terror attacks on our public transportation system, hotels and key installations.
14. Exercise Northstar 9 will take place next month at the Singapore Sports Hub and its immediate vicinity. This will test the Government’s ability to manage contingencies during major events taking place at the Singapore Sports Hub. The exercise will be based on a multiple terror attack scenario. More than 15 agencies will be involved in the exercise. Besides the 600 participants from the SCDF and other agencies, an estimated 1,000 volunteers, such as the Civil Defence Lionhearters and the People’s Association Youth Movement, will also be participating in the exercise.
Focus 3: Strengthen Community Partnerships
15. Thirdly, we must strengthen the partnerships forged with the community. The community plays a significant role in keeping Singapore safe and secure. Many have already volunteered their time, initiated programmes and responded to emergencies. We believe that many more citizens want to help and are willing to help. Hence, the SCDF needs to take our partnership with the community to a higher level, by encouraging and enabling more members of the community to come forward to volunteer.
16. Community partnerships have a tremendous multiplier effect on SCDF’s life-saving efforts. This is because the bystander will most likely be the first responder to an incident. As our population ages, the person that needs help may well be a parent, colleague or neighbour. Local research over the last decade shows that about 70% of all Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest Cases in Singapore occur at home. However, the survival rate for such cases is only around 12%. This is why the focus of SCDF’s community engagement initiatives is to equip the community with the essential basic first aid skills, particularly the ability to perform CPR-AED. In fact, the survivability of a cardiac arrest patient improves by 10% with every minute saved in administering CPR-AED from the onset of the cardiac arrest.
17. Therefore, the involvement of the community in responding to cardiac arrest cases is crucial to improving the chances of survival of such patients. SCDF’s new “Save-a-Life” initiative will organise, train and mobilise community responders to respond to cardiac arrest cases within their immediate vicinities. The SCDF will work with its partners such as HDB, Town Councils and the People’s Association, to raise community awareness and increase the availability of AEDs in public places. SCDF will commence a 6-month pilot project to install one AED in every two to three HDB blocks in six selected constituencies, namely Bedok, Bukit Panjang, Choa Chu Kang, Pasir Ris West, Radin Mas and Tampines West. The initiative will commence in the second half of this year. We hope to extend this initiative to all constituencies by the end of 2018.
18. SCDF will also launch the myResponder mobile app today. This app allows SCDF to alert community responders, trained in CPR-AED skills, to respond to a nearby cardiac arrest incident and alerts the responder to the location of the nearest available AED. We hope that this will allow the community responders to be alerted to cardiac arrest cases in their vicinity more promptly and reduce the time taken to administer timely medical intervention.
19. SCDF’s vision of Singapore as a Nation of Life Savers by the year 2025 is inspiring. It is an inclusive vision that envisages a potentially life-saving role for every citizen that will take much effort and hard work to realise. As SCDF strives for operational excellence in its day-to-day operations, it is imperative that this is achieved in tandem with a systematic and concerted effort to prepare for the future. I urge SCDF to work closely with MHQ to ensure that projects are planned and implemented on time, and on budget. SCDF should work with other Home Team Departments to ensure that plans are coherent and integrated across the Home Team. SCDF should also work closely with the community by helping the community take ownership of issues and enabling those who are willing to play a part in keeping Singapore safe and secure.
20. This annual Workplan seminar will help pave the way for this effort. I wish all of you a fruitful Workplan seminar. Thank you.