SINGAPORE: Ragging rituals ranging from getting pushed into a pump well to being locked in a cage or being ambushed while asleep are part of a "deeply ingrained culture" at the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), despite stringent rules against the practice, several former servicemen told Channel NewsAsia.
These rituals are often designed to humiliate, rather than endanger, and used to mark the initiation of newcomers or milestones such as when personnel complete their National Service stint and reach their operationally ready date (ORD), the former servicemen said.
Channel NewsAsia spoke to four men, who were based at various fire stations during their time as full-time national servicemen (NSF), all of whom requested anonymity.
On Monday (May 14), the SCDF announced that an NSF had died after being found unconscious at the bottom of a 12m-deep fire station pump well which was filled with water.
The NSF who died, Corporal (CPL) Kok Yuen Chin, had gone into the pump well at Tuas View fire station on Sunday as part of activities to celebrate his impending ORD with squad mates, SCDF said.
Two SCDF regulars - a staff sergeant and a first warrant officer - have been arrested.
FROM GETTING DUNKED IN A PUMP WELL TO BEING LOCKED IN A CAGE
One former firefighter said that the ritual of kolam, or Malay for "pool", involves getting pushed into the well, which is used for training and testing of fire engine pumps.
The aim of the challenge was to jump into what he called "algae-filled water".
"It's just a matter of not wanting to be in super dirty, algae-filled water," the 28-year-old said. "So just jump in, get yourself dirty and get out."
While the ex-firefighter said all soon-to-ORD personnel completed the ritual during his time as an NSF, he added that there were no injuries.
"We just had to make sure our heads were wet," he said, adding that there was a ladder available for the men to use. "I don't know how (CPL Kok) could have drowned."
Some of the other ragging activities practised include lathering shoe polish all over the skin of ORD personnel and putting them through blanket parties, he said. The latter involves covering the target with a blanket while they are asleep before clobbering them.
The activities may also include inserting a battery into a person's anus, moving his entire locker onto the roof or locking them up in a cage, another former firefighter said.
The aim of the practice is mainly to humiliate rather than cause danger to a person, a 27-year-old former serviceman told Channel NewsAsia.
"I've heard accounts of even more dangerous ragging, but these are generally (long-time) tales and are not practised anymore," he added.
A former medic, 25, said ORD personnel would have to get an intravenous drip done by junior medics, or get soaked in water as part of their ragging ritual.
As for the kolam practice, he said, junior firefighters would throw ORD personnel – who might be wearing heavy bunker gear – into the well.
However, he added that kolam was not commonly meted out these days.
"In fact, they don't really practise kolam," he said. "So, this is not really a common thing."
DEEPLY INGRAINED CULTURE
Despite stringent rules against the practice, ragging remains a "deeply ingrained culture" to initiate newbies and mark milestones such as ORD or a regular's retirement, said one ex-firefighter in his late 20s.
"Ragging was, and I’d like to believe still is, meant to be a good-natured way of fostering a sense of brotherhood, cohesion and team bonding amongst the firefighters," he said.
But according to him, ragging is an offence that can carry a term in the Civil Defence Detention Barracks or the halting of promotions and bonuses for regulars.
As such, as long as the activities were done discreetly, some officers would adopt a “don’t tell me, I don’t want to know” attitude, he claimed.
"Ragging as a practice has been cemented as part of the SCDF psyche, and is unlikely to go away anytime soon," he added.