Source: JCTC / Facebook

Bukit Batok fire: JCTC to issue Non-Performance notice to contractor tasked to maintain hose reels, accuses JKeart of negligence

The Jurong-Clementi Town Council (JCTC) will issue a Notice of Non-Performance to J. Keart Alliances Pte Ltd (JKeart) for allegedly failing to ensure that a selector switch at the pump room was correctly set after a maintenance exercise of the pumps carried out two weeks beforehand.

JKeart, the contractor responsible for maintaining the hose reels at Block 210A at Bukit Batok St 21, had reportedly provided JCTC a report, in which the contractor confirmed that the hose reels had been properly maintained and that there was water supply to the hose reels at the material time, said JCTC in a Facebook post on Mon evening (2 Dec).

The report by JKeart had also purportedly included signed statements from several of its employees who attended to the incident on 1 Nov, the town council added.

“As a result, JCTC will issue a Notice of Non-Performance to JKeart holding it contractually responsible for the failure,” said JCTC, adding that the contractor was “negligent” in ensuring that the switch was placed in the right mode.

The town council alleged that it had “retrieved and examined video footage from the CCTVs installed at the lifts of Block 210A”.

“After close review, it found that on the day of the fire incident, at about 8 am, a JKeart employee took one of the lifts at the block to the top floor from which the pump room may be accessed,” said JCTC.

“JKeart, after revisiting the matter with the employee, informed JCTC that its earlier report asserting that there was water in the hose reel on the day of the fire incident was incorrect.

“It disclosed that the employee concerned had confessed he went to the pump room at about 8 am on the day in question, after the fire, and saw that the selector switch was in “manual-mode”.

“In that mode, there would be no water pumped to the hose reel system. He immediately switched the selector switch to “auto-mode”, which activated the pumping of water to the hose reel system.

“JKeart further informed that its employee had switched the selector switch to “manual-mode” during a recent maintenance cycle conducted 2 weeks beforehand, so as to check each pump’s operations separately. He had then forgotten to switch it back to “auto-mode”.

“This failure had led to the hose reel system in Blk 210A having no water at the time when SCDF [Singapore Civil Defence Force] officers were engaged in the firefighting operation,” JCTC explained.

Hose reel cabinets secured with small padlocks due to “frequent vandalism”: JCTC

JCTC also said, based on its investigations, that the hose reel cabinets in Block 210A had been secured with small padlocks by one of the block’s property officers due to “frequent vandalism”.

“This was a mistake, as it meant that the cabinets could only be opened with force during an emergency, as SCDF had done during the recent fire incident. In the recent incident, despite gaining access to the hose reel system, SCDF was not able to activate it because it had no water for the reasons set out in the above section,” said JCTC.

Consequently, the town council said that the officer in question will be “redeployed” — despite having “provided dedicated service to JCTC over many years” — while two senior officers with supervisory roles over the officer will also be penalised.

JCTC added that its officers have — in a separate instance — “inspected the hose reels, fire extinguishers and other fire safety equipment in all the seven wards in JCTC to ensure they are in working condition”, and found that “while almost all the hose reel systems were in operating condition, many hose reel cabinets had been damaged through vandalism”.

“In a few instances, other fire safety equipment had also been vandalised. JCTC is taking urgent steps to repair and replace the damaged cabinets and equipment,” said the town council, adding that it “will not hesitate to refer persons damaging and misusing fire safety equipment to the authorities for investigation”.

“JCTC is also looking into other steps to minimise the incidence of vandalism in the future, including changing the design of hose reel and fire extinguisher cabinets and their locking mechanisms,” JCTC added.

Subsequently, the town council said it has also convened a committee comprising elected Town Councillors — namely Ang Wei Neng who has been appointed as chairman of the committee, Tan Wu Meng, and Bukit Batok SMC Member of Parliament (MP) Murali Pillai — to propose measures to “ensure reliability of fire emergency equipment, beyond the actions already being taken”.

“The committee will engage independent experts and residents before making its proposals for further corrective and preventive measures,” said JCTC.

Touching on the condition of the residents who were affected by the fire incident, JCTC said that it will continue to “partner with Bukit Batok community leaders to support Mdm Goh and her family, and is grateful to those who have made donations for the purpose”.

Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai previously claims accountability for lapses in fire safety

Mr Murali had previously claimed accountability for lapses in fire safety at the affected block, following the issuance of two Fire Hazard Abatement Notices by the SCDF to JCTC in Sep.

In a Facebook post on 15 Nov, Mr Murali said that he had learnt about the issues surrounding the access and deployment of firehose on the 13th floor while walking with the SCDF officers, and was “naturally concerned about both matters”.

He said he had “immediately” urged the SCDF officers to investigate these issues, and stressed that SCDF “took notice of the matter on the day of the fire incident itself” without “later owing to anyone else drawing attention to this matter”.

Mr Murali confirmed that JKeart Pte Ltd, the contractor responsible for maintaining the hose reels, had claimed that water supply was available to the hose reel in question at the time of the fire.

“They provided to Town Council a video of the hose reel in question in working condition on the same day of the fire incident. This led to Town Council meeting SCDF officers earlier this week to provide what JKeart showed.

“After consulting SCDF, Town Council issued a statement accepting SCDF’s position on the matter. It is now investigating JKeart’s assertions,” Mr Murali elaborated.

Touching on the issue of the padlocked hose reel compartments, Mr Murali said that two JCTC officers were identified as responsible for instructing the padlocking of the fire hose compartments “by using small padlocks that can be dislodged using force”.

“I am clear in my mind that, as your elected representative, I am accountable to you for both issues. These incidents should not have happened and, for that, I must apologise,” said Mr Murali.

The MP assured that he will be working with his elected and appointed Town Councillors on a review of the present case, in addition to ensuring that the fire safety system is strengthened to ensure its reliability.

Mr Murali also stressed that while he “did not make any reference” to the issue in his previous Facebook post, he insisted that he was actually at the fire scene on the same day itself “just before 8 am”, and had mostly focused on assisting the residents who were affected by the fire.

Padlocked hose reel compartment issue “a prime example” of how opposition parties should “put pressure on those in positions of authority” to be accountable to the people: SDP chief Chee Soon Juan

Responding to Mr Murali’s statement via a Facebook post of his own, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan said that the issue is “a prime example of how the opposition should work: to put pressure on those in positions of authority to account to the people”.

While he commended Mr Murali’s effort to be accountable for the issue at hand, Dr Chee suggested that it was his SDP team that had laid the groundwork in the process of investigating the root of the lapse in the relevant fire safety equipment.

“Taking the time and effort to do our homework (in this instance, talking to the BB residents, inspecting the fire equipment, and gathering feedback) allowed us to establish facts that the JCTC could not ignore or deny.

“Then came the probing and persistent questioning of the PAP MP and town council officials which resulted in the initial piecemeal release of information by JCTC but, finally, a full accounting by Mr Murali,” he said.

Dr Chee, in a Facebook post on 12 Nov also pointed out that JCTC did not reveal that “an inspection was made on the morning right after the fire and hosereel was certified to be working”.

Stating that JCTC’s claim contradicted SCDF’s report, Dr Chee questioned the town council as to why “such a misleading report” was made.

“The JCTC has responded to the fire incident at BB Blk 210A saying that the hose reels at the block “last underwent maintenance and testing by the appointed contractor on Oct 14, and certified to be in working condition.”

“But it accepted the SCDF’s finding that the hosereel in question was not working during the fire.

“Time of the report: 9:30 am. (The fire occurred at about 4:30 am that day.) Action taken: “Check and found Hosereel pump system normal working condition.” This contradicts SCDF’s report.

“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?” said Dr Chee.

Earlier on 5 Nov, SCDF responded to Dr Chee’s feedback regarding the non-functioning hose reel, stating that its officers “have done a follow up” with JCTC, under which the Bukit Batok block is managed.

“Town Councils are responsible for the maintenance of their estate’s fire safety measures and ensuring that they are functioning and well-maintained.

“SCDF officers will be inspecting the premises to ensure the Town Council’s compliance with the fire safety requirement. Enforcement action will be taken in the event of non-compliance,” said SCDF.

Dr Chee, who had earlier visited the unit on 3 Nov following the fire incident, pointed out that he was informed that the Fire Hose Reel on the floor was not functioning at the time the fire broke out – despite having been certified for inspection last month – due to an absence of water.

JCTC was subsequently issued a warning by SCDF after it was found that firefighters who were attending to a fire at Bukit Batok discovered that there was no water supply from the fire hose reels at the block.

To find out more ways to support us, visit this link: Donate