Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary-general Dr Chee Soon Juan has claimed that a ruling party town council’s inspection of the condition of a fire hose reel in the Bukit Batok estate contradicts the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) report that the hose was not working when a fire broke out at a HDB unit in Bukit Batok on 1 Nov.
A raging blaze broke out at a 13th-storey unit at Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21 on 1 Nov. SCDF firefighters found that the fire hose reel cabinets at the block were padlocked and discovered that there was no water supply for the hose reel when they broke one of the padlocks.
The problems with the fire hose reel is said to have delayed the rescue attempt and two male occupants of the flat climbed out onto the 13th-storey ledge from their kitchen window while another occupant locked herself in the bathroom as the fire built up.
The SCDF eventually put out the fire using water from their emergency vehicles and rescued the two men from the parapet using a ladder. All three occupants were hospitalised with burn injuries and smoke inhalation and the female occupant was placed in the Intensive Care Unit at Singapore General Hospital.
Town Councils are responsible for the maintenance of their estate’s fire safety measures and ensuring that they are functioning and well-maintained. The SCDF subsequently revealed that it issued Fire Hazard Abatement Notices to the JCTC following its inspection and that the Town Council has since rectified the non-compliances that were found.
In a statement released today (13 Nov), Jurong-Clementi Town Council’s (JCTC) general manager Ho Thian Poh said that the fire hose reels at Block 201A had been working two weeks before the fire. Despite this, he said that the town council which oversees Bukit Batok “accept[s] the SCDF’s finding that the hose in question was not working on the day of the fire.”
Mr Ho told the Straits Times that the 64 fire hose reels at Block 201A “last underwent maintenance and testing by the appointed contractor on Oct 14, and (were) certified to be in working condition.
“However, we accept the SCDF’s finding that the hose in question was not working on the day of the fire. We have been investigating why this was so, and will take appropriate actions once (the investigations are) concluded.”
Opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan, however, has raised doubts about JCTC’s explanation. While Bukit Batok is represented by People’s Action Party (PAP) parliamentarian Murali Pillai and is under JCTC, Dr Chee walks the ground regularly and keeps in touch with residents.
Mr Pillai beat Dr Chee in a by-election that was held in the ward in 2016 after former PAP MP David Ong resigned due to an extra-marital affair with a grassroots member. Dr Chee has been preparing to contest Bukit Batok SMC in the upcoming general election.
Last week, Dr Chee had received a message from a Willam da Silva – a man who claimed to be the legal counsel for JKeart Pte Ltd, the contractor responsible for maintenance of the hose reel at Blk 210A.
Mr da Silva told Dr Chee that JKeart’s team had, in the presence of a JCTC officer, inspected and tested the hose reels on the 12th, 13th and 14th storeys of the block on the morning of 1 November after the blaze was put out and found them to be functioning properly.
He added that the JCTC officer signed off on JKeart’s team job sheet “confirming that the hose reel pump system was in normal working condition” and provided Dr Chee with a copy of the job sheet.
The copy of the job sheet shows that an inspection was carried out hours after the fire was put out and that the hose reel was found to be in working condition:
Mr da Silva told Dr Chee that the “person or persons trying to extinguish the fire may overlooked (sic) the Instructions on the cabinet door on how to properly use the HR. The person or persons overlooked to turn on the water and turn on the tap faucet (Inlet Valve).”
In a Facebook post published after JCTC issued its statement on the matter, Dr Chee shared a copy of the job sheet and asked why the town council did not say that an inspection was made on the morning right after the fire and hosereel was certified to be working.
Noting that the job sheet contradicts the SCDF report, Dr Chee asked: “Can JCTC confirm this Job Sheet and, if this is true, why was such a misleading report made? In the interest of full transparency, why did it not reveal this fact?”
Dr Chee’s questions for JCTC come days after he wrote an open letter to Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai, asking him to tell Bukit Batok residents exactly what happened. He said: “As their elected official, I am sure you will agree that you owe the residents an explanation and have the responsibility to clear up the matter with them.”
Asking Mr Pillai to confirm the veracity of Mr da Silva’s claims, Dr Chee questioned whether the PAP MP was aware of JCTC and JKeart personnel’s conclusion that the hose reel was functioning properly and asked him what he did since the job sheet contradicts the SCDF’s report and residents’ complaints.
Dr Chee wrote: “As you can well imagine, this matter carries serious implications and deserves scrutiny and clarification. It is important that you get to the bottom of it and give an account to Bukit Batok residents who deserve full and complete transparency from their MP. After all, this incident and the subsequent developments concern their physical safety and had even involved a life-and-death situation.”
Mr Pillai has yet to respond to Dr Chee.