Death of NSF Dave Lee: Measures were taken to prevent heatstroke, says SAF commander

Death of NSF Dave Lee: Measures were taken to prevent heatstroke, says SAF commander

NSF Lee Han Xuan Dave wake
A framed photo of NSF Dave Lee at his wake on Wednesday (May 2). (Photo: Howard Law) 

SINGAPORE: Measures such as mandatory water parades and temperature checks to prevent heatstroke were taken for full-time national serviceman Dave Lee, a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) commander said on Thursday (May 3).

Preliminary investigations show that the NSF’s temperature was normal before he started an 8km fast march on the morning of Apr 18, said Commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command, Brigadier-General (BG) Kenneth Liow, in a letter provided to Channel NewsAsia. 

BG Liow was replying to three forum letters published in the Straits Times, titled "SAF must aim for zero fatality", "Use wearable tech to safeguard NSFs from heatstroke" and "Protect whistle-blowers to find out what happened in NSF's death". The letters were published earlier on Thursday.

The 19-year-old Guardsman had just completed a fast march when he showed “signs of heat injury”, according to the Ministry of Defence. He died on Apr 30, nearly two weeks after he was hospitalised.

He was posthumously promoted from private to Corporal First Class (CFC).

“Heat injury and the more severe heat strokes are known complications among soldiers during training given Singapore’s hot and humid climate. Over the years, a number of measures have been put into place to counter heat strokes with no recorded fatalities for the past nine years,” BG Liow said.

Commanders and soldiers are reminded to look out for signs of heat stroke during training, he added.

In the event of heat injury, cooling measures such as the removal of clothes and application of ice or water will be taken for the affected soldier, BG Liow said, adding that the SAF medical centres also have custom-built evaporative body cooling units.

If the soldier’s condition is severe, he will be evacuated to the nearest hospital.

“All these measures were taken for CFC Dave Lee. We are deeply saddened and disappointed that despite these measures, his condition did not improve, resulting in his demise,” BG Liow said.

SAF EVALUATING NEW WAYS TO PREVENT HEATSTROKE

Addressing a letter from a Mr Loong Chik Tong, BG Liow said the SAF "recognises and accepts the responsibility of ensuring the safety of each precious son" entrusted to it during his National Service. He said the SAF was deeply saddened by the soldier’s death and was doing its best to assist his family. 

"We agree with Mr Loong that any death during NS training, even if rare, is one too many. The SAF does indeed seek to achieve zero fatality and will continually put in place safety systems to achieve this goal, as we train realistically to achieve our mission to protect Singapore against all threats," said BG Liow.  

The response also touched on a suggestion by a Mr Tan Teck Leng that wearable tech be used to detect signs of sickness. BG Liow said that such technology has already been evaluated but "as yet, (has) not provided definitive solutions". 

"We will continue to evaluate new ones as they appear," he said, adding that an external review panel comprising clinician doctors in the public healthcare sector will be convened to independently review the existing strategy for heat injury prevention and management in SAF. 

"As announced, a Committee of Inquiry has been convened to investigate fully the factors leading to the death of CFC Dave Lee. Based on these findings, the SAF will take appropriate measures to improve our overall strategy against heat strokes to achieve zero fatalities."

Source: CNA/hs/cy

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