The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will decommission all 19 pump wells located at fire stations. This change was implemented after full-time national serviceman (NSF) Kok Yuen Chin was pushed into a deep pump well in Tuas View Fire Station on May 13 as part of a ragging practice, that disturbingly resulted in his death. The Board of Inquiry (BOI) conducted an investigation prior to his death and recommended a review of ragging practices and the decommission of all pump wells.
Corporal Kok, who was only 22 years old, had just finished his two-year training and was looking forward to his Operationally Ready Date (ORD), which was slated for May 16.
On May 13, Kok’s fellow colleagues, members of his rota (a team of fire and rescue specialists and paramedics) threw him a celebration to congratulate him. The festivities included a cake, a personalized plaque and a ragging ritual.
Ragging, an initiation ritual that takes place in higher education institutions around Southeast Asia, is similar to hazing, which involves humiliation, abuse or harassment, usually by senior students to new entrants. Hazing especially can lead to serious physical or psychological injury and even death.
In the case of Kok’s team members, all they wanted to accomplish was to celebrate Kok’s ORD in the way they knew how, although the SCDF had already prohibited such activities. The ragging ritual they chose was to push Kok in a 12-meter deep pump well at the station.
Kok, a Singapore permanent resident from Malaysia, reportedly told his sister the night before that he was afraid of going into the pump well because he did not know how to swim.
After Kok’s death, the Board of Inquiry was convened by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, who ordered an investigation of the incident on May 22. They found that Kok was pushed into the well by his colleagues at 9:04PM. When he did not resurface eight seconds later, one of his teammates jumped in after him. They attempted to rescue him for a little over 30 minutes, but they were unable to resuscitate him.
In discussions with SCDF, the BOI discovered that pump-well testing and training can be conducted at the Civil Defence Academy without compromising the operational effectiveness of the SCDF, meaning each fire station does not need to have its own pump well.
The press release announced that “The board therefore recommended that the fire station pump wells be decommissioned, to remove the risk of unauthorized 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.”
In response to the board’s recommendations, the SCDF decided to decommission all 19 pump wells at fire stations.
Apparently, the SCDF had strict policies against ragging rituals. Anti-ragging briefings were conducted for all servicemen at enlistment and during training, and regular training sessions were organized by commanders. Each fire station also had posters reminding servicemen of the anti-ragging policy.
The BOI came up with a total of 11 recommendations to prevent further tragedies, which included the following: 1) the improvement of policies with the goal of promoting assurance and protecting the interests of victims and observers, 2) the expansion of channels for reporting incidents of ragging, 3) additional training for SCDF commanders that would allow them to pre-empt ragging amongst officers under their charge and 4) the review of how the SCDF recognizes positive behavior in servicemen, such as helping and showing care for colleagues.
The findings were submitted in a report to Minister Shanmugam on August 28.
Upon accepting the recommendations, Minister Shanmugam said, “We will do whatever we can to ensure that no more officers come to harm because of such activities. 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.”