Photo: Singapore Civil Defence Force

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) is set to have all 19 pump wells located at fire stations decommissioned by end of year in response to the recommendations proposed by the Board of Inquiry (BOI) looking into the ragging incident which saw the drowning of a full-time national serviceman (NSF) in May.

Earlier in May, an inquiry was launched by the Ministry of Home Affairs to investigate the untimely death of a full-time national serviceman, Corporal Kok Yuen Chin. The 22-year old was found dead at the bottom of a 12 metre deep pump well in the Tuas View Fire Station on 13th May. The corporal was pushed into the well by one of his colleagues during a celebration to mark his upcoming Operationally Ready Date that went out of control.

A serviceman jumped in seconds later when Corporal Kok did not resurface and a few others jumped in as well to try to rescue him. After several failed attempts – including pumping water out of the well and using breathing apparatus to dive deeper – the men finally pulled Corporal Kok out 36 minutes later to find him unconscious. Paramedics were unable to resuscitate him at the site and later in the hospital, the corporal was pronounced dead. His cause of death is reported to be drowning.

The incident has raised renewed discussion about ragging in the service force.

In a statement of key recommendations by BOI, the Minister of Home Affairs Mr K Shanmugam said, “The recommendations will help the SCDF eradicate unauthorised activities, such as ragging. The conduct of the officers involved was unacceptable. Those who were assessed to be criminally culpable have been charged and will answer for their actions in Court. The others will be investigated for departmental disciplinary actions. We will do whatever we can to ensure that no more officers come to harm because of such activities.”

The BOI outlines several key recommendations to prevent incidents like this from happening again, starting with ramping up the anti-ragging policies of the SCDF. While the BOI acknowledged the SCDF’s existing anti-ragging policies and frameworks which it described as ‘clear’, they noted that the incident in May happened despite those measures, thus throwing the efficacy of those policies into question.

The BOI recommended a further review of SCDF’s anti-ragging measures to better help servicemen internalise those policies and strengthen the anti-raging ethos. In particular, the Board suggested for a more hands-on instructional methods in educating the servicemen on how to identify and stop ragging. The Board also recommended enhancing whistle-blowing policies to give victims and observers greater assurances that their interests will be protected.

Apart from policy recommendations, the Board has also recommended the decommissioning of all pump wells in each fire station to remove the risk of unauthorised access. In the course of their investigations, the Board found that pump well testing and training can be centralised at the Civil Defence Academy instead of the individual fire stations.

As an added measure, the board’s final recommendation is to enhance CCTV coverage in vulnerable areas within SCDF areas and to strengthen the training on risk management and workplace safety.

The BOI’s recommendations have been accepted by Mr Shanmugam in full and forwarded to SCDF who will be implementing necessary follow-up actions.

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