SINGAPORE — When my husband and I lit a lavender-scented candle in our bedroom last year, we thought it would help us unwind, relax and sleep better.
The candle turned out to be a fire hazard. This was after the open flame touched the corner of a pillow and set it ablaze.
We eventually put out the fire by covering the burning pillow with a towel and stamping on it. In our panic, my husband sustained minor burns.
The incident showed how ill-prepared we were in dealing with emergency situations for even a small fire and our lack of fire safety knowledge.
Knowing that we could have become another fire statistic recorded with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) made me uneasy. Even today, I can still recall my panic and feeling of helplessness at the time because I did not know what to do.
My worries are not unfounded. Firefighters from SCDF responded to 1,799 fires last year, of which there were 171 injuries and six deaths. More than half (52 per cent) took place in residential buildings.
At home, the top causes of fires were those resulting from naked light such as from candlelight — about one in five cases (or 21 per cent).
Other common causes were overheating of food due to cooking left unattended (37 per cent) and electrical fires (25 per cent) such as from faulty wiring, electrical appliances or overloading of power sockets.
HOW TO GET ON SCDF’S FREE PROGRAMME
When I heard about SCDF’s Community Emergency Preparedness Programme (CEPP), I decided that it was time I learnt to respond properly in emergency situations.
The emergency preparedness training programme is free for everyone from Singaporeans to foreigners who are 13 years old and above.
Comprising three tiers, the programme is designed for people to learn basic lifesaving skills and essential emergency procedures in a progressive manner.
The aim is also to promote community self-resilience, which is part of the SGSecure national movement to respond in a terrorism threat.
WHAT I LEARNT ONLINE
The first tier of the programme involves completing an online e-learning module that equips participants with basic knowledge on how to get out of harm’s way and “improvise” first-aid skills in an emergency, as the course description goes.
It took about 10 to 15 minutes to complete.
The first topic of the e-learning module was: “What do you do when a fire breaks out?”.
Clearly, the programme is targeted at people who are clueless about basic fire safety – like me.
The module covered fire-related scenarios, such as how to escape through smoke and what to do should your clothes catch fire or if you’re trapped in a fire in an enclosed space.
I also picked up interesting bits of information. For example, did you know that in a fire, there are typically more casualties who suffer from smoke inhalation than burns?
With this knowledge, I now know better than to run towards the exit when I’m in a smoke-filled room.
Instead, I should cover my nose and mouth with a wet cloth. More importantly, I should get down, keep close to the ground and crawl towards the point of escape under the smoke.
LEARNING TO MANAGE BLEEDING, CHOKING, BURNS
The second tier of the programme, called Response Ready, covered the three vital emergency preparedness skills known as the “Triangle of Life”.
They include basic firefighting, first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation plus automated external defibrillator (CPR+AED) skills.
As part my training, I attended a three-hour-long session at the Pasir Ris East Community Club last month, together with a group of housing estate cleaners from the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council who were there to pick up new skills or refresh what they previously learnt.
The session was facilitated by the 2nd SCDF Division, which oversees the eastern region of Singapore.
You may choose to attend this at other locations facilitated by other SCDF divisions.
You may also complete the module online but I much preferred hands-on experience to learn to put out a fire, bandage a wound or try to restart someone’s heartbeat.
Staff Sergeant Daniel Chng, who was involved in the training programme that day, said that the windlass technique is applied when initial direct pressure to an active bleeding wound — typically for limb injuries — does not successfully stop the bleed.
He is the assistant community involvement officer from the 2nd SCDF Division.
WHAT I LEARNT FOR CPR + AED
Learning to perform CPR and use an AED are among the main components of the training session.
In Singapore, more than 3,000 people suffer from sudden cardiac arrest a year, with more than 80 per cent in residential and public settings, the Singapore Heart Foundation said.
Mr Mohamed Yam the trainer said that the survival rate of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest cases in Singapore is around 26 per cent, but with early CPR and paired with the use of AED, the chances of survival increases by two times or more.
During the session, I learnt hands-only CPR, which does not involve mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
SCDF said that this is the recommended method for untrained people or general public because it eliminates the hesitation of performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation with a stranger.
For those who wish to learn the mouth-to-mouth technique, the third tier of the CEPP, called Lifesaver, will cover that and other more advanced lifesaving skills such as immobilising fractures.
Staff Sergeant Chng explained that the purpose of performing CPR is to use chest compressions to mimic how the heart pumps — this helps keep blood flowing to the rest of the body including the brain.
“When the patient goes into cardiac arrest, the chest compression administered during CPR will continue to keep the blood flowing while supplying oxygen to vital organs until professional help arrives,” he added.
Mr Mohamed Yam said that there is a possible risk of a rib fracture during CPR, particularly in older adults. However, he also pointed out that without help, the person has no chance of surviving.
Personally, I was afraid to use an AED. The device works by delivering a controlled electric shock to a cardiac arrest victim to re-establish normal heart rhythm.
What if I made things worse, or accidentally give myself or someone else an electric shock because I’m unfamiliar with using the device?