The SCDF Workplan Seminar 2016 - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 06 May 2016

Commissioner Eric Yap

Colleagues from the SCDF





1.     30 years ago, in March 1986, we had the Hotel New World collapse. There were four days of search and rescue operations, 17 people were saved, 33 people died and their bodies were recovered from the rubble. That had a deep impact on our national psyche. It had a huge impact on all of us. Within the Home Team, that led to a relook at how we had structured ourselves. The Singapore Fire Service was then integrated with the Civil Defence Force.

2.     Since then, the SCDF has since grown from strength to strength. You look at it today; it is a modern, well-trained, well-equipped force. It is able to deal with emergencies; fire, search and rescue operations, dealing with hazardous materials, medical emergencies and civil disasters.


3.     2015 was challenging for the entire Home Team, and equally for SCDF. The tempo of operations was high. In spite of this, the SCDF did extremely well.

4.     In terms of statistics, fire fatalities have remained low for the past five years. In 2015, we had 0.13 fire fatalities per 100,000 population. It is low by any standards, when you look at comparable cities, Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York, they range from 0.3 to 0.7 per 100,000 population.  

5.     The number of fire calls in 2015 fell by 2.5% from 4,724 in 2014 to 4,604 in 2015. 

6.     We look at Emergency Medical Service (EMS) response time. Despite an increase in EMS calls, from 156,000 in 2014 to 166,000 last year, the emergency response time improved by almost 2%.  


7.     In 2015, SCDF participated in a number of overseas missions: 

a.     In March, six DART officers were deployed to Chiang Mai, together with a 5,000-litre heli-bucket, to assist the local authorities in the fight against forest fires.


b.     In April, following a disaster of a completely different magnitude in Nepal, we sent a 126-man Home Team contingent, including 60 officers from the SCDF, to assist in relief efforts in the aftermath of an earthquake.


c.     In October, we had another six DART officers with the 5,000-litre heli-bucket deployed to Sumatra to fight the fires that were raging there.


8.     Operationally, SCDF gets tested both here and overseas, and has consistently performed well. That was recognised in the awards that it received, the Singapore Quality Award with Special Commendation. This is the highest and most prestigious Award for Business Excellence in Singapore. SCDF deserves our congratulations.

9.     It has only been possible because of the quality of people we have, both in the leadership and across the ranks, and the training that they get. The dedication of the men and women of SCDF, its NS officers, volunteers and of course, the community partners.  


10.     In Singapore, we looked at what has happened and say, "What is next? What is ahead? What are the challenges?". We have to deal with the challenges. We have spoken about this, and terrorism is a very serious threat. SCDF is a key partner, working with the Police in responding to potential incidents. Second, emergency medical calls will increase year-on-year because of our ageing population. Third, at the same time, our manpower situation will continue to be challenging - declining birth rates, the number of Singaporeans entering the workforce every year is coming down, the demand for workforce across the public service and private sector continues to be there. There will be limits to the number of people we can recruit.


11.     So, how does SCDF deal with this and remain an effective force? It has to do what it has been doing successfully, which is to continue to evolve to deal with these challenges - new operating concepts, technology and innovation. The answer lies in innovation, preventing the problem from arising in the first place with upstream intervention and bringing in the community.  




12.     The demands on SCDF and manpower constraints have led SCDF, over the years, to evolve to what it has been, and that journey will have to continue. Innovation is part of SCDF's DNA. It has become, through force of circumstances and adapting to those circumstances, one of the leanest emergency forces and at the same time, one of the most efficient. If you look at hard data, fire incidents and fire fatalities are one of the lowest.


13.     If you look at fire-fighting scenarios, the innovation can be seen in the fact that highly-trained officers are working with equipment that SCDF has adapted to local conditions. For example, the Unmanned Fire-fighting Machine (UFM), which was introduced in 2014, has allowed the SCDF to fight fire, carry out operations deep within risk areas, without exposing fire-fighters to extreme heat or seriously endangering their lives. To further enhance SCDF's sense-making capabilities, SCDF is now exploring the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance, sense-making and HazMat monitoring.

14.     I am pleased to announce that SCDF will be introducing two new vehicles which will enhance its fire-fighting capabilities even more. The new Fire and Rescue Ops Support Tender (FROST) and the Mass Decontamination Vehicle (MDV) will increase SCDF's overall capability to handle simultaneous large-scale incidents.




15.     Second, SCDF has to continue to be operationally prepared with a strong focus on upstream prevention efforts to prevent the problem from arising so we have less problems downstream. One example of that approach is the approach to fire prevention. We have in Singapore very strict fire safety code and a regulatory framework. Our Fire Codes for buildings are stringent, robust and enforced. That is the reason why we have now a low number of incidents over the last 10 years. Consequently, the number of injuries and fatalities also go down. We will continue to look at these sorts of approaches across a range of areas to see how we can try to keep fire fatalities, for example, low through preventive measures. A lot depends on public education.




16.     The third aspect, strengthening the community partnership. We have to continue and expand, bring the community to work with us. The idea that the community's safety and security is a collective responsibility is something that we have to drive home. The SCDF will have a shift in the way it engages the community and focus much more towards getting the nation ready for emergencies, and make it clear that the community will play a vital role in that, alongside the SCDF. We put this as part of the larger SG Secure framework.


17.     Last year, SCDF implemented the 'Save-A-Life' initiative. It is really to encourage prompt bystander response for cardiac arrest victims. Every one minute of delay in responding reduces the survival rate of the victim by 7 to 10%. This is extremely significant. Every minute that you can shave off in response time will significantly increase the survival rate. SCDF started the pilot project in six constituencies, putting AEDs in every two to three HDB blocks and trained people in the neighbourhood. So far about 1,800 residents have been trained and 285 AEDs have been installed. Many residents have downloaded the MyResponder mobile app and some have registered as Community First Responders. The intention is that by 2019, this will be rolled out to all constituencies, in all HDB estates.


18.     In addition, because speed of response is essential, SCDF has implemented the Dispatcher-Assisted CPR. This provides over-the-phone assistance to 995 callers to perform chest compressions on cardiac arrest victims. This initiative increased the bystander CPR rates from 22% in 2011 to 49% in 2015, slightly more than double. Our task and challenge will be to try to get actual numbers to increase substantially.


19.     In this context, SCDF will look at flagship community engagement platforms and two of them, the Community Emergency Preparedness Programme (CEPP) and the Emergency Preparedness (EP) Day, will be restructured to support the SG Secure movement. We will revamp and restructure both of these programmes to focus on the key thrusts of SG Secure which are vigilance, cohesion and resilience. 


20.     We will equip, through these programmes, participants with life-saving skills and emergency preparedness procedures, and they will be given advisories on what to do in the event of a terrorist attack and how to keep themselves and others safe.


21.     The focus of these revamped Emergency Preparedness Programmes will be on practical hands-on training. They have to learn by experience so that there is a certain confidence level.  


22.     For a start, we have our 20,000 SCDF National Service (NS) personnel, both full time NSmen as well as Operational Ready NSmen. They can play the role as Community Responders in SG Secure.


23.     SCDF NS officers are already well trained in the Triangle of Life skills. They are in the position to render swift assistance to those in distress, even when they are off duty, when they are in the community. 


24.     Second, we will take the Shelter Battalion, transform and revamp it. This is an Operationally Ready National Service (ORNS) unit and they will become the new Public Shelter and Resilience Unit. ORNSmen from the unit will take on additional roles as SG Secure mobilisers in their communities. They will have the responsibility to conduct public outreach, education and mobilisation of partner community leaders. They will conduct door-to-door outreach programmes and they will seed the SG Secure messages. Should a fire or medical emergency occur near where they are, they would be activated to provide the initial community response and hopefully there will be enough who have been trained. 


25.     The key challenge that we are going to face is how to bring the community in. Within the Home Team it is going to be relatively easier to get the message across, to train our people, to get them ready to be on the ground, our NSmen and our officers. How do we bring the community in? First, the message has to be understood, and that's never easy because in a sense, Singapore is a cocoon, a bubble, everything is safe and secure. To try to get people to understand that there is a problem that we need to deal with is the first major challenge. This is why I have been making a number of speeches on this issue. 


26.     The second challenge is having gotten the message across, how do we make people realise that they have a role to play. It is one thing to understand that there is a problem and another to believe that they can play a role. As there is a lack of understanding, we have to reach out and that is going to be a key challenge. We have to reach out and get them to come from their busy lives on the weekends to see if they can take part. Getting the message across, getting them to believe that it is a worthwhile cause is half the battle won. When they believe in the cause, they will come. We have to put in a lot of effort on that and we have to really push, using our NS people, our resources and messaging, we have to really move on the ground. From SCDF's perspective, to have many well-trained volunteers around the neighbourhood will significantly reduce fatalities, increase the chances of survival and reduce the pressure on the response times from emergency vehicles.




27.     In conclusion, SCDF will transform and develop new operating concepts. It will continue its focus on innovation and technology. This is part of the transformation efforts of the entire Home Team to stay on top of the challenges, to evolve to meet the challenges, think about them before they come, and be prepared. SCDF will also innovate and take advantage of new technologies. It will continue to be pro-active in galvanising forces to work closely in partnership with the community and attain its 2025 Vision of a Nation of Lifesavers.


28.     I wish all of you a fruitful and meaningful seminar. Thank you.


Civil Defence and Emergency Preparedness