SINGAPORE: The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will decommission all 19 pump wells located at fire stations, on the recommendation of a Board of Inquiry (BOI) convened to investigate the death of full-time national serviceman Kok Yuen Chin.
On May 13, Corporal (CPL) Kok was found unconscious at the bottom of a 12m-deep fire station pump well which was filled with water.
The BOI's key findings and recommendations on CPL Kok's death were released on Thursday (Sep 13) by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
The inquiry found that May 13, the night CPL Kok died, started off as a celebratory activity for his impending Operationally Ready Date (ORD) but subsequently "went tragically wrong".
The celebration, to mark the end of CPL Kok's two-year training, was an initiative by members of his rota and paid for by the servicemen themselves. In a fire station context, a rota is a team comprising fire and rescue specialists and paramedics who are on standby duty to provide emergency services.
The inquiry found that CPL Kok was pushed into the well after the celebrations as part of a ragging ritual and did not resurface. Despite his colleagues' attempts to save him, he could not be resuscitated after being pulled out of the well 36 minutes later.
During its discussions with SCDF, the BOI found that pump-well testing and training can be centralised at the Civil Defence Academy without compromising SCDF’s operational effectiveness and it is therefore not necessary for each fire station to have its own pump well, MHA said.
"The board therefore recommended that the fire station pump wells be decommissioned, to remove the risk of unauthorised access. For the pump wells at Civil Defence Academy, the board has suggested that SCDF take additional measures to restrict access and ensure their safe usage," according to the press release.
In a news release the same day, SCDF agreed to the board's recommendation to decommission all 19 pump wells at fire stations given that the testing of fire engine water pumps and related training can be conducted at the Civil Defence Academy without affecting its operations.
The decommissioning works, which involve filling up the wells with granite chips and covering them with concrete slabs, are expected to be completed by December this year, SCDF said, adding that future pump testing and training will be scheduled to coincide with officers' regular training at the Civil Defence Academy.
INCIDENT TOOK PLACE DESPITE "CLEAR ANTI-RAGGING POLICIES AND FRAMEWORKS"
MHA said the board found that the SCDF had clear anti-ragging policies and frameworks.
There were anti-ragging briefing sessions for all servicemen at the point of enlistment and during training. These messages were further reinforced through regular interviews and informal sessions with NSFs by commanders. Posters were also displayed at fire stations to remind servicemen of SCDF's anti-ragging policy.
The incident took place "in spite of these measures", the board said.
Nonetheless, it recommended that SCDF further review its anti-ragging measures. In particular, it suggested that SCDF help servicemen better internalise its anti-ragging policy.
The board also recommended that SCDF look into having more hands-on instructional methods to teach servicemen how to identify and stop ragging, and equip servicemen with a standard set of response lines to help them say "no" to ragging.
The BOI also found that SCDF had clear disciplinary and whistle-blowing policies.
It recommended that these policies be further enhanced to give greater assurance to victims and observers that their interests will be protected, and that SCDF expands the number of channels through which servicemen can report ragging incidents.
In addition, the board noted SCDF’s "zero tolerance policy" towards all forms of unauthorised activities, including ragging, and recommended that SCDF ensures that its commanders are trained to help them pre-empt ragging amongst officers under their charge.
"Officers who do not hold command positions but are senior in terms of rank or length of service should also be further trained to reinforce an anti-ragging culture within their own circles of influence," MHA said.
It recommended that SCDF review how it recognises positive behaviour demonstrated by officers who show care for fellow colleagues. This could help to strengthen SCDF’s anti-ragging ethos, according to the press release.
Other recommendations include enhancing CCTV coverage in vulnerable areas within SCDF areas and strengthening training on risk management and workplace safety, MHA said.
The board interviewed more than 50 SCDF officers, including senior management, in the course of its inquiry. It also visited Tuas View Fire Station, where the incident took place, and reviewed evidence relevant to the incident.
The inquiry is separate from the investigations undertaken by the Singapore Police Force, which led to five SCDF officers being charged in court. It is also separate from any subsequent disciplinary proceedings that may be undertaken by SCDF, MHA added.
The recommendations were submitted to Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Aug 28 and he accepted them in full, according to the ministry.
"We will do whatever we can to ensure that no more officers come to harm because of such activities. CPL Kok's death was a most tragic loss, both for his family and SCDF. Our thoughts continue to be with his family, and we will support and assist them in any way we can," said Mr Shanmugam.