The Singapore Civil Defence Force Workplan Seminar 2018 - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 18 April 2018

Commissioner Eric Yap,


Your Excellencies,


Colleagues from the Home Team,


Partners and Friends,


  1. A very good morning to all of you




  2. Each year, we look at SCDF and every year, SCDF does well, and does better.


  3.  Let’s look at just one statistic – the number of fire calls. In 2017 we had the lowest number of fire calls in the last 40 years, less than 4,000 for the first time, a fall of 6% from 2016.


  4. The reality is that it requires a lot of effort to educate people, to work with people, to try and get them to understand. Half of the fires in residences, for example, come from kitchens through unattended cooking and many other things that can be avoided. So it has been a huge effort in education, working with the community and partnering the community. It is now showing results steadily, resulting in the number of fires coming down.


  5. Also, if you look at the number of fire fatalities per 100,000 population, in 2017 we have had three fatalities or 0.05 per 100,000 population[1]. If you compare to other cities, Hong Kong had around 0.3 per 100,000 while New York had 0.8 fatalities per 100,000.


  6. This success has been achieved despite a very challenging environment. Obviously, the urban density is increasing, and SCDF is a much more leaner force compared with other similar forces. Again, if you take Hong Kong and New York, they have about 130 fire personnel per 100,000 population. SCDF has just 37 fire personnel per 100,000.


  7. These are real figures and these are the kinds of statistics that make a real difference to the way a place is run and governed. With something like one-third the number of people, SCDF is achieving a much better outcome, primarily because of a number of factors coming together – a good regulatory framework, long period of public education, a much more law-abiding population and a lot of focus on efficiency.






  8. We always look at the challenges ahead.  Demand for Emergency Medical Services, or EMS, will continue to rise as the population ages. In 2017, the senior citizens, those above the age of 65, made up 13% of the population. By 2030, they will make up 25% of the population, or one in four.  Last year, although they made up 13% of the population, they took up a much higher number of EMS calls at 40%. So when 25% of the population are senior citizens, obviously the number of EMS calls will increase.


  9. A second challenge is our increasingly complex urban environment, with more and taller buildings. Third, lower birth-rates. SCDF plans to tackle these by having a more tiered response for EMS, building more community partnerships, and continuing the focus on technology.




    EMS Tiered Response Framework


  10. When we talk about tiered response for EMS, last year I said that given the way the number of calls are going up, it would not be possible for us to react to every call immediately in the same way. It is just not possible. Therefore, we have to bring in a tiered response and calibrate it. There is a difference between cardiac arrest and a case of cuts and bruises. You have to treat them differently, you can’t treat all of them in the same way.


  11. So we focused on triaging ‘995’ calls and worked with the hospitals. Staff nurses from hospitals are now deployed at SCDF’s call centres. They make an assessment and provide medical advice and instructions to callers, so that even before the emergency forces arrive, some assistance could preferably be given, such as how to perform CPR, for example. They will also prioritise the cases based on their assessment and the framework.


  12. We have also doubled the number of fire-fighters who are trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) – they are trained both as firefighters and EMTs. They travel on bikes and can respond faster, and reach the scene earlier and they can render medical assistance even before the arrival of SCDF ambulances.


    Strengthening Paramedic Competencies


  13. Secondly, EMS is not just about upgrading the processes and reacting faster. It is about training our people to the best of their abilities. We will strengthen the competencies of our paramedics even more.


  14. SCDF has signed an MOU with the SingHealth Group last year to enhance paramedic training. SCDF paramedics have been trained at SingHealth’s medical simulation institute since January 2017, to deal with ‘simulated emergencies’. From October this year, the paramedics will be attached to hospital emergency departments where they will learn alongside doctors and nurses in the emergency rooms. This way, they will get that real-life experience.


  15. To enhance their professionalism, we will launch a Singapore Government Scholarship for paramedics this year. Recipients will read para-medicine or related disciplines, e.g. emergency health, in overseas universities where appropriate and we will give them scholarships. We hope through this route, to develop leaders with clinical expertise, who can be attuned to SCDF’s operational needs. That’s one part – training our people to do more with less, training them to be more professional and giving them scholarships and attaching them to hospitals.





  16. Second, we are as successful as we are, whether it’s Police, whether it’s SCDF or the other Home Team agencies, primarily because the community and people trust us. I keep emphasising this from a year and a half ago when Police did a survey. More than 90% of Singaporeans have confidence in the Police Force and SCDF, and more than 95% of women feel confident walking around alone at night.


  17. These are things, statistics that most countries will be envious about. People feel confident, people feel free, and they trust the officers who come in uniform. In fact, our problems are the reverse because now that we have SGSecure, we are trying to get people to take this seriously. The sense is that the Home Team will take care of everything, and they don’t need to worry. So we need to bring that across to people. But it’s a very good position to be in. Home Team agencies are one of the most trusted Government departments. In fact, compared to any institution, Home Team institutions are among the most trusted in Singapore. That allows us to develop strong partnerships with the community.


  18. SCDF has been very focused on developing those community partnerships. So when something happens, a family member, a neighbour, a friend or bystander early at the scene can respond faster than anyone that we send. That builds into the concept of a nation of lifesavers.


  19. You look at the Save-A-Life (SAL) initiative. In 2015, we started training Community First Responders (CFRs) under the SAL initiative. That allowed us to equip people in the community with basic life-saving skills. SAL trains and mobilises members of the public. They respond to nearby cardiac arrest cases when they receive the alerts from the myResponder app.


  20. In these situations, every minute matters. Chances of survival for cardiac arrest drops by 7% to 10% for every minute without medical assistance. So the faster you respond, the better the chances of survival. Since the initiative was launched in August 2015, we have had 1,700 individuals who responded to nearly 14,000 cases. Just think of that. Less than 3 years, 1,700 individuals responded to nearly 14,000 cases. Lives have been saved. People have been helped. We need to push on this.


  21. So the CFR’s scope will now cover minor rubbish chute fires. For example, SCDF expanded this in January this year. A lot of fires occur in rubbish chutes, quite a significant percentage, half of all fires in residential premises. Often through negligence, through lack of attention. So education is one part, and getting the community to respond is another part. Most of these fires can actually be put out by residents without having to mobilise SCDF because at the same time, there are other fires that need to be put out.


  22. So we are going to encourage the public to come forward as CFRs, download the myResponder app, work with SCDF, get trained, save a life, put out a fire, help the neighbourhood and build a community in that way.




  23. Third is of course technology. We have to use technology, and it has been a meaningful journey. For example, having a robot to go and fight fires. It saves us manpower but it also enhances SCDF’s ability to deal with the fires.


  24. SCDF has had a very strong culture of innovation, bringing in technology for operational, practical purposes. Technologies like the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Fire Medical Vehicles and the Unmanned Firefighting Machines. All of these have increased SCDF’s operational readiness and ability to fight emergencies that arise, and save lives.


    Indoor Tracking System


  25. In terms of new capabilities, SCDF is going to develop a new system. Many of our fires are in buildings, and our firefighters go in. The ability to track where they are in an environment with intense heat is extremely useful for the commander.


  26. So they are going to develop a system where, in a complex fire, to try and see how they can track all the firefighters within the building so that they know the exact location of everyone – are they safe, are they caught in an extreme heat situation, and monitor their vital signs. That will allow the commander to quickly decide to re-deploy, or withdraw the forces, or activate additional resources. It’s not straightforward, particularly not in extreme operating conditions, but SCDF has started a proof-of-concept project.




  27. Second, robotics. Use of robotics is now quite strong – one of them that you saw was the Life Detection Robot. This is designed to be used in rubble and debris. It will be equipped with life detection sensors to pick up sound, heat and chemical releases from the human body. It will have 3-D mapping capability so the ground commander will know where there are signs of life, and what the environment is like for better appreciation of the situation during urban search and rescue operations.


  28. The final evaluation of this robot will take place this month. So the use of technology is actually very exciting. It allows the SCDF to develop into an even better, fine, effective force, with a very good concept of operations. And we are going to launch a couple of technologies later today.






  29. So technology and capabilities are necessary for SCDF to stay ahead, but most important of course at the core, is the professional, dedicated set of SCDF officers, right from the commander down to the ground operating crew at the front end.


  30. Recently, we had an example of how a professional Force can deliver extremely good results. The Pulau Busing oil tank fire last month, we saw all those qualities, and more, in our officers. You know it’s a very risky, dangerous fire, oil tanks next to each other, one caught fire, and usually it will take days and the likelihood is it could have spread to the other oil tanks. We are talking about thousands of litres of capacity. But the SCDF ground officers were very professional, they planned it well, and they took a number of steps. It was put out just after six hours.


  31. So those qualities will bring SCDF, I believe, to even better standards in the year ahead; make it an even better and effective Force, and a Force that can continue to have the highest regard from Singaporeans.


  32. Thank you very much.

[1] There were three fire fatalities in 2017, compared to two in 2016. 


Civil Defence and Emergency Preparedness