The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) should equip all HDB households with smoke detectors and the Home Fire Alarm Device (HFAD), and utilise new technologies such as data visualisation to map areas where there are large concentrations of elderly residents in a bid to buttress fire safety, said Non-constituency Member of Parliament and Workers’ Party member Daniel Goh.
Speaking in Parliament earlier this month on the Fire Safety (Amendment) Bill, Goh noted that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) currently mandates the installation of such fire safety devices in new residential properties since June last year as a part of its plans for SCDF to adopt a “judicious, risk-based approach” in handling fire safety issues, especially in ageing buildings.
Highlighting that an exercise to retrofit 50,000 needy households in public rental flats with HFADs was done for free previously, he said that such an exercise should be extended to all public housing flats in phases.
The retrofitting and installation works, Goh said, should begin with flats that have undergone or are undergoing the Home Improvement Programme renovations, as it will “benefit the vast majority of the population and protect most Singaporeans”, particularly “senior citizens who reside in studio apartments and 2-room flats”.
“Furthermore, ageing HDB flats built for Industry 2.0 and 3.0 will face problems with electrical load and lack the most modern fire safety features. An ageing population will also require a rethink of fire safety provisions and contingencies, as seniors are less alert and less mobile in fire situations,” he added.
Citing the case of a fire on the 48th floor at Pinnacle @ Duxton in May last year, Goh noted that many elderly residents in particular resorted to using elevators to escape the fire despite knowing the risks of doing so, as seen in the case of a 64-year-old senior who walked down three floors before giving up and taking the lift.
“Many ageing HDB blocks are 10 to 24 storeys high. A senior citizen like the one at Pinnacle Duxton who gave up after walking down 3 floors would face the same problem of evacuating an older, relatively low-rise HDB block,” he said.
While the Fire Code has been revised to mandate the provision of “refuge floors” with holding areas at 20-storey intervals and two fire lifts to facilitate evacuation of senior citizens and persons with disabilities by SCDF for high-rise residential buildings such as Pinnacle @ Duxton, Goh said that such measures may not be sufficient to assist such vulnerable groups.
“Would the retrofitting of such blocks with refuge floors with holding areas, say at one of the staircase landing or fire lift lobby of common corridors every 4 to 5 storeys, better cater to an ageing society?” he asked.
Goh also proposed mapping the fire risks of ageing HDB blocks, as well as the specific risks of HDB blocks with a sizeable ageing residential profile, with the provision of body cameras on SCDF officers under the Bill.
“With new big data and data visualization technologies, it should not be too difficult for HDB to provide regularly updated information to SCDF on HDB blocks that house more senior citizens across the city.
“Armed with such knowledge, the SCDF and the police could deploy additional resources to assist in evacuation and support of senior citizens in the event of fire in blocks with higher concentrations of elderly residents. If this is going to be a protocol for the SCDF and the police, it would be important to communicate this to Singaporeans for peace of mind,” said Goh.