SINGAPORE — A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer will be charged in court on Monday (Oct 16) for allegedly leaving a full-time national serviceman (NSF) alone in a burning flat to fight the fire.
The police said this in a statement on Saturday following their probe into the fire on Dec 8 last year at Block 91 Henderson Road that resulted in the death of SCDF NSF Sergeant Edward H Go, who was 19 years old.
The 38-year-old officer was a superior of Go and had allegedly “left Edward alone in the housing unit to fight the ongoing fire, against SCDF’s firefighting doctrine, without informing anyone of this fact” said the police.
He will be charged with causing grievous hurt by a rash act which endangers life or the personal safety of others, which carries a jail term of up to four years, or a fine of up to S$10,000, or both.
Go’s autopsy had certified the cause of death to be “suffocation due to depleted air cylinder”. The police added that their investigations did not find any evidence to suggest his death was due to equipment failure.
In a separate statement, the SCDF said that the police had also referred another officer to the SCDF for “departmental action”.
“This officer had allegedly failed to adequately ensure the overall safety of the firefighting operation when he subsequently arrived and took over command and control of the incident,” said SCDF.
Regarding this second officer, SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap told reporters: “We will conduct a thorough investigation into the case and if any lapses were to be found, we will take firm and fair disciplinary actions against the officer concerned.”
The officer has since been redeployed to a non-supervisory and non-operational post pending the outcome of the investigation.
Sgt Go was the first SCDF personnel to have perished in a firefighting operation. He was part of the first-response crew to the Henderson Road fire.
During the firefighting operation, he fell unconscious in the kitchen area of the flat. After he was carried out of the unit, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation was performed on him before he was taken to Singapore General Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
He was promoted from corporal to sergeant posthumously.
Following the incident, the SCDF had formed an Internal Review Group, comprising officers and specialists with many years of experience, to conduct a detailed after-action review that covered many aspects such as SCDF’s firefighting procedures and operational safety, as well as equipping and training.
Overall, the review found that SCDF’s firefighting doctrine is systematically taught to its firefighters and its principles are well established on the ground.
The review nonetheless recommended that among other things, SCDF needs to take steps to comprehensively review the selection and training of its ground commanders. This includes enhancing the emphasis on command responsibility and conducting exercises to test their capabilities.
SCDF said in its statement that it has done so.
As part of the review, over 260 firefighting operations from January 2021 to December 2022 were also audited to assess if they were conducted professionally, with appropriate command and control, and with adequate safety for the officers.
“The audit found that the operations had been conducted competently and safely, although there were still occasional individual lapses, not uncommon in a dynamic situation like a firefighting operation,” said SCDF.
Commissioner Yap said that to minimise such lapses, measures have been taken to enhance operational procedures on the ground. These include conducting closer monitoring of personnel who are deployed for firefighting, starting from the point of their arrival at an incident, to ensure that officers conduct checks again on the equipment before they enter the fire.
Commissioner Yap also sent an internal memo to SCDF personnel on Saturday to inform them about the latest developments on Sgt Go’s case, as well as the findings from SCDF’s review.
The memo, which was released to the media, also expressed the need for “everyone’s support” as SCDF begins the hard work of regaining the trust and confidence of the public, as well as of the families who entrust their sons to SCDF to serve their National Service.
“This incident and the findings of the police will no doubt dent SCDF’s good image, reputation and standing. It is especially painful because we have lost a colleague,” he said in the memo.
“However, we will not shy away from the findings. We take responsibility for this and will set things right.”
Speaking to the media, Commissioner Yap said that the safety of its officers will always remain SCDF’s top priority even as it carries out its mission of saving lives and property.
He added: “All of us in the SCDF feels very deeply for Sergeant Edward’s parents. It must have been very difficult for them throughout this period, not least today, with the conclusion of police’s investigation, and we will continue to provide them with every support and assistance they need.”