On Monday (11 November), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan took to his Facebook to demand People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs to address the issue of malfunctioning hose reels in regard to a fire that broke out in a HDB flat in Bukit Batok two weeks earlier.
On 1 November, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) revealed that firefighters from Bukit Batok Fire Station and Jurong Fire Station responded to a fire alert at around 4.31 a.m, but they were unable to use the fire hose reels at the block to put out the fire.
This is because, according to a statement issued to the media, several of the hose reel cabinets had been padlocked. Even after firefighters broke one of the padlocks, they were still unable to use the fire hose reel because there was no water supply, said SCDF.
Three individuals – a woman and two men – were rescued from the blazing flat and were taken to hospital with burn injuries and smoke inhalation.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Following the incident, SCDF issued a warning to Jurong-Clementi Town Council (JCTC). They notified JCTC about the locked up and malfunctioning fire hose reels and performed an inspection with town council representatives.
JCTC was subsequently issued with Fire Hazard Abatement Notices, which serve as warning to rectify the non-compliance.
In this instance, it would mean ensuring that the hose reels are functioning and are not locked, SCDF said in its statement.
Should non-compliances of the same nature be detected during a reinspection by SCDF, the Town Council could be liable for a composition fine or even prosecution, it added.
“SCDF has since verified through onsite inspections that the fire hose reels at the block are now accessible and in working order.”
Dr Chee calls for transparency
In response to the warning issued by SCDF, Dr Chee said in his post that PAP MPs have “chosen to remain silent over the issue”, three days after JCTC was given a warning for violating fire safety codes.
As such, he said he would like Murali Pillai (MP for Bukit Batok) and other MPs to take note of what Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said to Workers’ Party (WP) in terms of being transparent, in regards to the AHTC case.
“I would like to remind Mr Murali and other MPs at JCTC to heed the words of DPM Heng Swee Keat, who, in his motion against the Workers’ Party, called for MPs to ‘be transparent and open…Disclose all the fact..,” Dr Chee said.
He was referring to Mr Heng’s speech in Parliament where he claimed WP has not been transparent and “had hidden documents from auditors”.
“The fact is there were many documents that were asked for but the town council did not provide but despite that, the AGO has important findings that merited action. So there were documents which we asked for which you did not provide,” Mr Heng said.
If that’s not all, Dr Chee also asserted in his post that being transparent is important.
“Transparency in this matter is important because JCTC had apparently certified that the hose reel was in proper working order immediately after the incident when, in fact, the SCDF had found out not to be the case. I raised this matter with the PAP MPs but have, so far, heard only silence from them,” the SDP chief noted.
As such, Dr Chee said that this is a serious matter which requires an independent inquiry, as it is “troubling on so many levels and is crying out for answers”.
He then asked, “Can JCTC confirm that it had inspected the fire equipment and found it to be working properly before SCDF intervened? Has this ever happened before? Was this the first time that the Town Council was found to have breached fire safety practices? Have other Town Councils been cited for fire safety breaches before?”
Dr Chee also wondered if the advice given by Mr Heng during the recent Parliament session is only meant for the opposition parties and not PAP itself.
“Mr Heng added during his recent Parliamentary speech that those who participate in politics must be ‘trusted to uphold the public interest’ and ‘admit their mistakes when they have done wrong’. The whole nation is watching to see if Mr Heng’s advice is only good for opposition parties,” he concluded.
Other questions raised
In an earlier post, Dr Chee noted that he sent a letter to Mr Pillai demanding the elected MP to answer a number of questions as he “owes the residents an explanation and have the responsibility to clear up the matter with them”.
Below are the questions Dr Chee raised:
- When did you first come to know that there were problems with the fire safety equipment at Blk 210A?
- Why did you not make public the safety breaches noted by the SCDF and the residents, the nature of these breaches, and, most importantly, the steps taken to rectify them?
- Why did you not report that the SCDF had issued Fire Hazard Abatement Notices for these violations?”
Dr Chee also noted in his letter dated 8 November that he received a Facebook message from an individual called William da Silva who claimed to be the legal counsel for JKeart Pte Ltd, the contractor responsible for the maintenance of the hose reel at the affected HDB block.
“Mr da Silva wrote 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 have functioned 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 attached a copy of the said job sheet,” Dr Chee said.
He added that Mr da Silva “went on to say 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).”
As such, Dr Chee also questioned Mr Murali if “Mr da Silva is indeed JKeart’s legal counsel”, and if he is, then can the MP “confirm the veracity of his claims.