Critics have thrown scorn at the Little India Riot COI report. Some said the COI gave the Home Team only a slap on the wrist – citing the fact that the Home Team was too busy standing their ground as rioters went to town with a burning passion to light every police car on fire that night.
But within the Home Team is the Singapore Civil Defence Force that was only briefly mentioned by the COI with the criticism that the force retreated too quickly.
Its work on the ground, its strengths and weaknesses were largely left out in the report, as everyone was too busy glaring at the Singapore Police Force.
First off, the SCDF decision to retreat that night after its vehicles were pelted with firebombs.
“The rioters started to walk towards us with firebombs in their hands. We had no idea what they were made of but we knew that it could potentially set our SRT [vehicle] ablaze.
“We knew we had to leave the scene. As the other vehicles before us were overturned, the driver attempted to manoeuvre the steering wheel but his hands were bleeding from the cuts caused by the shattered glass bits,” said an abstract from SCDF blog.
It was clear that they were unprepared for their task that Dec 8 night. The officers were already under attack, according to their personal accounts on the SCDF blog, but they tried to extract a smashed body and help a driver hiding under a dustbin and a wailing timekeeper from a nearly-overturned bus.
It is also worth noting that the SCDF officers were helmetless, having given their DART helmets to police officers. Four officers that night only had one riot shield to protect them.
But why did the SCDF only have one DART helmet in one vehicle? It was only after the Little India Riot that SCDF Commander Daniel Seet said SCDF would be looking into improving protective gear for paramedics.
SCDF is clearly unequipped to deal with a riot. Saying that Singapore had no riot for 40 years is not really an excuse – and that was not emphasised in the COI.
It all comes down to the fact that the SCDF needs to have sufficient safety equipment at their disposal, before they can protect others and themselves. For instance, if a group of paramedics are pelted with stones and glasses, what are the odds they can save anyone at all, while keeping themselves alive?
Look at the testimony of a paramedic during the riot:
“Less than a split second, a concrete slab pierced through the ambulance and hit my leg. My legs weakened and I fell on my knees.
“Physically, I was toppled… My leg was bleeding as the chaos persisted. For a moment, I felt completely blank. I did not know how to react.”
It is problematic that some SCDF officers are not psychologically prepared to deal with the riot. The COI could have made this recommendation: SCDF officers need to be prepared for any emergency and not freeze in panic.
The COI suggested that the SCDF and the police force must have proper protocol to work together in the event of another riot. It is time for them to come up with plans to protect the paramedics and fire fighters during riots – then they will have absolutely no excuse to putting up a strong show in times of an emergency.