SINGAPORE: The number of power-assisted bicycle (PAB)-related fires doubled in 2020, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said on Friday (Feb 5) in what it called an “area of concern”.
There were 26 PAB-related fires in 2020, up from 13 the year before, annual statistics released by SCDF showed. This figure has fluctuated in recent years, with 22 cases in 2018, seven in 2017 and 17 in 2016.
On the other hand, personal mobility device (PMD)-related fires went down by 58.8 per cent, from 102 in 2019 to 42 in 2020. This could be attributed to tougher restrictions on where PMDs are allowed to be used, SCDF said.
The last year also saw fires involving active mobility devices, which include PABs and PMDs, decrease by 40.9 per cent.
“Members of the public who own PABs and PMDs should continue to be vigilant when handling their devices as these fires can result in casualties and serious damage to property,” SCDF said.
“SCDF will continue to raise public awareness of the fire safety risks associated with PMDs and PABs, and educate the public on actions they can take to reduce these risks.”
SCDF senior director of operations Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) Daniel Seet said SCDF and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) are "observing closely" the increase in PAB fires.
"One major observation is that those who own these devices use additional battery packs not from original equipment manufacturers and tamper with their devices. It is not a safe thing to do," he said.
"We will continue to monitor this very carefully and look at various levers and initiatives, including public education and reaching out directly to the owners of these devices to encourage them to get their devices checked out."
SCDF encouraged members of the public to only buy PABs with the EN15194 certification and the LTA’s orange seal of approval.
The EN15194 certification requires stringent tests on the mechanical strength of a PAB’s batteries, and the risks of short circuits and overcharging.
In July last year, three men were fined between S$3,000 and S$3,500 in cases involving illegally modified PABs whose batteries had caught fire.
Those convicted of modifying a PAB to render it non-compliant can be jailed for up to two years and/or fined a maximum of S$20,000.
FEWER FIRE INCIDENTS, MORE INJURIES IN 2020
Overall, there were 1,877 fire incidents in 2020, a 34.4 per cent decrease from 2,862 the year before. SCDF said this was largely due to a drop in vegetation fires, given the shorter spells of dry weather last year.
Fire incidents in all three categories - residential premises, non-residential premises and non-building places - also dipped.
Still, SCDF reported an increase in fire injuries, from 142 in 2019 to 184 in 2020. There was one fatality last year - a 66-year-old man who died after his unit at Block 123 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6 caught fire on Feb 13.
Fires caused by electrical origin were the leading cause of all fires, accounting for 29 per cent of all fires in 2020. This includes fires involving faulty wirings and electrical appliances that ignite nearby combustible materials.
The second highest cause was due to overheating of food or those involving cooking activities. These made up 22.2 per cent of all fires in 2020.
FIRES IN RESIDENTIAL PREMISES
There were 1,054 fire incidents in residential premises in 2020, a 9.8 per cent decrease from the year before. The top three types of fires were unattended cooking, discarded items and electrical, respectively.
There was an increase in unattended cooking and electrical fires, although fires involving discarded items have been on a downward trend since 2018.
“SCDF will continue to publicise fire safety advisories and educate the public about preventive measures that can be taken at residential premises,” it said.
This includes putting up digital fire safety advisories on unattended cooking at Housing and Development Board blocks islandwide last September.
FIRES IN NON-RESIDENTIAL PREMISES
There were 386 fire incidents in non-residential premises in 2020, a 22.2 per cent decrease from the year before. All three categories of fires - commercial, industrial as well as social and communal - registered a decrease.
“SCDF will continue to collaborate with the National Fire and Civil Emergency Preparedness Council, building owners and fire safety managers to ensure that premises remain fire-safe, while conducting enforcement checks at non-residential premises to ensure that fire safety is maintained,” it said.
FIRES IN NON-BUILDING PLACES
There were 437 fire incidents in non-building places in 2020, a 63.5 per cent decrease from the year before. This was mainly due to a 78 per cent decrease in vegetation fires.
The number of vehicle fires also decreased by 21.5 per cent, from 195 in 2019 to 153 last year.
EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES CALLS
SCDF said it responded to 190,882 emergency medical services (EMS) calls last year, a 0.3 per cent decrease from the year before. This is the first time in 20 years that the figure has gone down.
This decrease can be attributed to fewer non-emergency calls and false alarm calls, as well as fewer trauma incidents like traffic and workplace accidents amid the pandemic, SCDF said.
Despite that, SCDF saw a “surge” in calls involving migrant worker dormitories due to COVID-19. There were about 4,000 calls linked to such premises, which at its peak over several months accounted for about 6 per cent of the monthly call volume.
Non-emergency and false alarm calls also went down by 16.1 per cent and 14.1 per cent respectively. SCDF said these could be attributed to its public education efforts and more people staying home during the pandemic.
Of the 175,953 emergency calls received in 2020, 79.5 per cent were medical-related, 16 per cent were trauma cases and the remaining 4.5 per cent involved road traffic accidents. The number of calls involving the elderly, or those aged 65 and above, remained the highest.
In 2020, SCDF transported about 2,000 COVID-19 positive cases and more than 8,300 suspected cases. Of the suspected cases, more than 60 were later tested positive. This operation involved about 1,400 personnel comprising paramedics, emergency medical technicians and 995 operation centre specialists.
This meant that personnel encountered more challenges on the ground despite the drop in calls, SCDF said.
"They have to adopt special precautions, like donning of personal protective equipment and exercising due care in handling patients in order to minimise risk of infection," SCDF director of Emergency Medical Services Assistant Commissioner Yong Meng Hwa said.
"That will probably add to the stress and workload of EMS personnel."
MORE HELP FOR 995 CALLERS
From March, SCDF said some 995 callers will get visual guides via SMS to help them give immediate aid in a medical emergency. This is for cases that involve choking, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).
These guides, which will be in the form of Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) files, will augment instructions given over the phone and guide callers step by step on the Heimlich Manoeuvre, CPR and AED.
“With this latest initiative, coupled with dispatcher-assisted CPR, 995 callers will be supported by instructions over the phone as well as a visual reference to carry out medical aid to victims while waiting for the SCDF emergency responders to arrive,” SCDF said.
“It is hoped that this would give them an added boost of confidence when they are rendering assistance.”
On the enforcement front, SCDF said it conducted 9,833 enforcement checks, as well as issued 2,213 fire hazard abatement notices (FHAN) and 1,560 notices of fire safety offence (NSFO) in 2020.
FHANs are given to building owners or other responsible parties to abate the fire hazards, whereas NFSOs are for more serious fire safety breaches that warrant heavier penalties.
The most common fire hazard was the non-functioning of exit sign and emergency lights, which accounted for 26.7 per cent FHANs issued.
The most common fire safety violation was the unauthorised change of use of premises, which accounted for 42.4 per cent of the total NFSOs issued.
Eighty-four cases of fire safety violations were prosecuted in 2020, SCDF said, with the majority of them due to unauthorised change of use of premises, followed by unauthorised fire safety works.
In February last year, a company was fined S$12,000 for various violations that compromised the building’s fire safety, SCDF said.
These include unauthorised change of use of a factory to a workers’ dormitory, and unauthorised fire safety works that involved the erection of mezzanine floor and the removal of part of a fire compartment wall.
“SCDF continued to work with building owners to ensure fire safety, even as new safe management measures were being implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said, highlighting the quick and safe evacuation of occupants during a fire emergency as one example.
“SCDF takes a serious view of fire safety and has been conducting frequent enforcement checks, both proactively and in response to public feedback.”