THE Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has adopted new technologies to deal with a growing number of safety challenges facing the nation, whether it be a rapidly ageing population or the ever-present threat of terrorism.
As Singapore greys, SCDF foresees that the number of emergency medical service calls will increase, putting a heavy strain on its resources. The rise of taller and higher-density buildings and development of subterranean structures will also pose a new set of risks that needs to be contained.
"Against this backdrop, we will need to transform to keep pace with these societal and landscape changes in delivering a consistent level of service excellence with a lean and effective approach," said Anwar Abdullah, director of the operations department.
The uniformed organisation's main job is to provide firefighting, rescue and emergency medical services, mitigate hazardous materials incidents, as well as implement regulations on fire safety and civil defence shelter matters. It also engages the community actively through a wide range of education programmes and activities to enhance their level of emergency preparedness.
Its efforts have played a key role in Singapore being ranked consistently as one of the most fire-safe countries globally. The Republic has the lowest fire fatalities, fire injuries and number of fires per 100,000 people since 2010. SCDF is also one of the most economical firefighting organisations, with the lowest direct fire loss and fire administration insurance, according to World Fire Statistics 2015.
"SCDF achieves world-class outcomes despite it being one of the leanest emergency organisations internationally. This is done through innovative approaches, transforming our people and leveraging advanced technologies," said Ng Chee Kiang, director of the service excellence department.
SCDF is one of two winners of the 2015 Singapore Quality Award with Special Commendation, the highest honour in the Business Excellence Awards.
To maintain its high level of performance, the organisation builds up capabilities in anticipation of future threats and risks. For instance, it implemented an Emergency Medical Technician scheme that cross-trains fire response specialists in medical skills to deal with an ageing population. Meanwhile, its Unmanned Firefighting Machines were designed to address increasing risks resulting from the growth of Singapore's chemical and biomedical industries.
Other recent innovations include the Compressed Air Foam System in its main firefighting appliances. The CAF is technology that uses 70 per cent less water while extinguishing fire four times faster than water.
Ensuring that its people are well-trained is another key driver of SCDF's superior performance and productivity. It achieves this by leveraging advanced simulators - such as the Advanced Command Training System and the Road Traffic Accident Augmented Reality Training System - to conduct training with a high level of realism.
For instance, SCDF's 995 operations centre specialists are trained to coach callers to administer cardio pulmonary resuscitation for cardiac arrest before SCDF arrives. As a result, the proportion of cardiac arrest victims receiving CPR from bystanders has increased from 22 per cent in 2011 to 47 per cent in 2014.
One of SCDF's key missions is to transform Singapore into a nation where everyone can be a lifesaver in any emergency situation by 2025.
Known as "A Nation of Lifesavers", this vision, if realised, will enable SCDF to render emergency assistance more effectively through a strong collaboration with the community.
"The swifter response to emergencies by both SCDF and the Community First Responders will enable better survival outcomes for those in distress," said Abdul Razak Abdul Raheem, director of volunteer and community partnership department.
With this goal in mind, the force will strengthen its firefighting and rescue capabilities, enhance pre-hospital emergency care and improve its crisis management capability.
It will also work to enable members of the public to be the first responders to incidents that occur close to them. This will involve putting more automated external defibrillators in public places and setting up active response capabilities within the residential neighbourhoods.
Finally, SCDF will seek to foster a culture of fire safety and protection across the country through the use of laws and regulations.
Among other initiatives, it extended the Company Emergency Response Team (CERT) scheme to include public and industrial buildings in April 2015.
The scheme was first introduced in 2005 for industries dealing with large quantities of petroleum and flammables. Early intervention by CERTs prior to the arrival of SCDF has proved to be effective in preventing incident escalation and injury to occupants.
Eric Yap, SCDF commissioner, said: "We are excited and optimistic about the future. Alongside the strong and unwavering support from all our stakeholders and community partners, we are confident of achieving the 2025 vision of 'A Nation of Lifesavers' that will enable a safer and more secure Singapore for all."
Working with the community
To help realise its vision of creating a nation of lifesavers, SCDF works with the public in an effort to provide emergency assistance more effectively. Some of their initiatives are:
Home Team Neighbourhood Active Responder Programme
The NEAR Programme was launched as a pilot initiative in both Tampines East and Tampines West constituencies. It involves community volunteers acting as active responders for emergencies in their neighbourhood.
Upon activation, these volunteers will respond on their bicycles equipped with a first-aid kit, automated external defibrillator (AED), fire extinguishers and smoke evacuation hoods. Training is provided by SCDF, Singapore Police Force and People's Association.
MyResponder Mobile App
The Save-a-Life initiative involves having accessible AEDs in public places, including residential estates, that anyone could easily reach to aid a cardiac arrest victim. To complement this, SCDF worked with the Singapore Heart Foundation to set up a national online AED registry that lists out the locations of these devices at public places via a mobile app.
Members of the public can also register themselves as a Community First Responder via the same app and be a lifesaver when called upon to be so. The "myResponder" application is available for free download.