Singapore Civil Defence Force Workplan Seminar 2019 - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 09 May 2019

Commissioner Eric Yap,  

Colleagues from the Home Team,

Partners and Friends,


  1. Good morning to all of you and thank you for coming here and sharing this morning with us.


    SCDF’s achievements in 2018

  2. Last year, SCDF did well. Every year it has been doing well, and last year, there was a continuous improvement. Singapore continues to have one of the lowest rates of fire fatalities and fire incidents in the world. We had less than one fatality per million population. This is lower than other major cities which are comparable. If you take Hong Kong, it is around three per million; Tokyo, around six per million; New York, around nine per million. We also saw a decrease of around nine per cent in fire incidents in residential premises.


  3. The SCDF Operation Lionheart Contingent (OLHC) successfully attained the classification of ‘Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Team’, after undergoing the United Nations’ INSARAG External Reclassification. This shows SCDF’s very strong operational capability to conduct complex search and rescue operations. That is a critical capability we need to have in our environment. If we have a major disaster such as a building or other civil infrastructure that collapses, this is a critical capability. This is in fact the third successful classification of the SCDF team in the last 11 years since 2008. It is one of only nine agencies in the world with this achievement. SCDF deserves a round of applause for that.


    2019: Way Forward for SCDF

  4. Looking ahead, SCDF’s operating environment will continue to become more challenging. It is something all Home Team agencies face. The rising medical needs of an ageing population is something that SCDF has got to deal with. And of course, a more complex physical environment and more resource constraints - less NS personnel, less people available to serve in SCDF. SCDF, like the other Home Team agencies, has to transform and rely on technology.



  5. SCDF has been making significant progress in its transformation journey, focusing on how we use technology, and also frontline operations.


    Expanding Possibilities with Technology


  6. First on technology, SCDF is one of the organisations that has incorporated technology into its day-to-day operations in a very significant way, to focus on fire research and fire safety; data analytics to improve emergency response; and robotics and unmanned systems for high-risk frontline operations.


  7. One example is the Pumper Firefighting Machine which we unveiled last year. Remote-controlled, it is small enough to fit into a lift, goes through doorways in residential buildings, and goes up and down the stairs. It can fight fire in places where it will be too dangerous for our firefighters. It has been deployed in three fire incidents during operational trials, and the results had been positive.


  8. This year, SCDF is developing the Modular Oil Tank Fire-fighting System (MOTFS). It improves the response to major fire incidents at oil storage facilities. These fires are extremely tricky. A fire at a single tank can spread very quickly to all nearby tanks. The speed of response is essential.


  9. The good part about this modular system is that it is designed to deal with these sorts of complex fire incidents. It has different components. They can be used separately for smaller-scale fires or they can be combined to deal with much larger-scale fires. So our firefighters can go in, make an assessment, and then they can say, “Okay, we are going to change this round” - they can customise the system. The system also allows us options to expand water supply for firefighting. If the sea is nearby, the system can easily draw the water from the sea to provide a very high volume of water which is needed for the firefighting, rather than rely on the traditional methods.


  10. Other new technologies that we are looking at - trialling the use of an artificial intelligence system to help the emergency call dispatchers. The system has been trained to recognise speech, can transcribe and log emergency calls and it is programmed to recognise the four official languages plus the fifth, Singlish. SCDF receives close to 200,000 calls for assistance every year. If this trial is successful, it will significantly reduce the time taken to process emergency calls.


  11. SCDF is also working with our universities to see what other solutions there can be. Last year at the Lifesavers’ Innovation Challenge - we saw close to 30 teams from local universities come together to think of ideas on how we can overcome the resource constraints and use technology. The winning team was from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). They came up with a web-based application which will connect the caller, the emergency call operator, and the paramedic using a video-feed for emergency medical calls. It has the potential to improve the flow of information for lifesaving operations.


  12. For the 2019 Challenge, we are going to ask the students to think about how we can do better emergency response in a smart city. We are talking about thinking of what a smart city would look like, and how that can help us respond better.


    Optimising Frontline Operations

  13. The second aspect that I will speak about is SCDF’s frontline operations. How do we improve them?


    EMS Tiered-Response Framework


  14. We have got the tired-response framework that I would like to talk about. We have had that for some time and we calibrate the responses based on severity of cases. I have spoken about it. For life-threatening cases, we have cardiac arrests, strokes - every second matters. Those are the highest priority. Quickest response, extra resources.


  15. Phase 1 was implemented two years ago. We focused on two areas. Triaging of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) calls at the SCDF 995 Operations Centre - it prioritises life-threatening cases1; and also training of firefighters as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). They can attend to medical emergencies and they can use the Fire Bikes or Fire Medical Vehicles. The results from Phase 1 have been good. SCDF responded within eight minutes for 80 per cent of the calls. This is about a nine-percentage point increase - an improvement.


  16. Last month, SCDF went on to Phase 2. It includes implementing high-performance CPR for victims suffering from cardiac arrest. Other emergency vehicles including the Red Rhino, are now also being dispatched with EMT-trained firefighters on board for life-threatening cases. Phase 2 hopefully will show us that we can respond even faster - more effective response for life-threatening cases with the bringing in of these additional personnel.


    Managing Non-Emergencies


  17. Together with that, we also have to manage the non-emergency calls and we have to find a way of getting the message across. Calls have been increasing five per cent annually, every year for the last 21 years.


  18. Despite all our efforts to engage and educate the public, one out of ten calls received by SCDF in 2018 were false-alarms or for non-emergencies such as cough and rashes. In total, SCDF responded to more than 10,000 cases of non-emergencies last year. That was a misallocation of resources. They could have been diverted to emergency cases where lives were at stake.


  19. We will continue to explore how SCDF can respond to emergencies first. The emergency crew will now only convey emergency cases to the hospital. For non-emergencies, the EMS crews will advise the person to visit the nearest clinic or call 1777. They may get upset but we have got to try to train them for these things.


    Improving Response Time


  20. We are also exploring ways how response times can be improved because very second counts. For a while now, we have been trying it out - SCDF ambulances go past red lights and make U-turns at all junctions whenever it is necessary for life-threatening emergencies. The drivers are trained, and are authorised to execute the manoeuvres only under specific conditions.


  21. It has been shown that the response time to get the victims to hospitals has come down by an average of two-and-a-half minutes. That is significant, in serious cases. Chances of survival of a cardiac arrest patient goes down by ten per cent for every minute without CPR intervention.


  22. SCDF is now partnering LTA to deploy the Traffic Priority System within the immediate vicinity of hospitals. What would that system do? It will work on the traffic light signals. The signals will be adjusted to provide the right of way for ambulances. For example, the duration of the red light may be shortened, or the duration of the green light extended, depending on the situation.




  23. Let me turn now to our key partners in our transformation. SCDF is doing its best to put forward a vision of ‘A Nation of Life Savers’. Community is absolutely important even as it becomes an ageing society. When the community gets involved, our work becomes easier. People who need help - their chances of survival also improves. So we want to encourage everyone to join SCDF on this journey.


  24. This year, SCDF commemorates 150 Years of Civil Defence Volunteerism.The first official Volunteer Fire Brigade in Singapore was formed in 1869.


  25. Today, we have one of our oldest volunteers with us. Mr Yunnos bin Shariff is 75 years old. He is a retired SCDF officer who has served since the days of the Singapore Fire Service. After his retirement, he has continued to serve in the Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit (CDAU) as a guide at the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery. He speaks to people, talks about his experiences, his knowledge, and spends more than 100 hours each month on average, which is a lot. He had also donated some of his own collections, including fire engine models, to the Gallery, so that visitors can see what vintage fire appliances look like. He’s here, could I ask him to stand up and let’s give him a round of applause.


  26. Every individual in the community is key to Singapore becoming a more resilient, more prepared society. We can all play a role – use CPR; or use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to help someone; or even pouring water down a rubbish chute because of the number of fires that have started that way and sometimes SCDF had to respond to those.


  27. Also the SCDF’s myResponder app, as well the same module in the SGSecure app - these will help individuals take part, understand what is going on, get messages and also be alerted to emergencies nearby where they can help if they are able to. As of January 2019, the myResponder app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times.


  28. Today, we have with us a Community First Responder (CFR) who has responded to more than 20 incidents via the myResponder app. Mr Rex Ang – can I ask him to stand up. Rex, thank you very much. Rex is a nursing student and has already received five CFR awards from SCDF. We need more like him. He carries his first aid kit with him wherever he goes so that he can immediately give help – it is really a life of helping others.


  29. This year, to commemorate 150 Years of Civil Defence Volunteerism, we will be holding a big SCDF Volunteer Gala Nite 2019. This will celebrate our volunteers’ contributions over the years. It will be held on 19 July and the President has kindly agreed to be the Guest-of-Honour. I look forward to a great event, seeing our volunteers and it will be a significant recognition of SCDF.



  30. SCDF has made tremendous headway in its transformation. I am personally pleased with the progress and it has shown itself capable of continuous innovation and that will continue to be necessary. Thank you for another good year ahead. Thank you.

[1] Cases can be classified in either of the following four categories: life-threatening emergencies, emergencies, minor emergencies and non-emergencies.


Civil Defence and Emergency Preparedness