'Every few steps there was a cat lying on the floor': How SCDF officers saved 13 cats from fire
When firefighter Juliet Oh entered a smoke-filled Housing Board flat on April 21, she and her team found 14 cats strewn across the floor.
She said: "We found one, then another, and another. Every few steps there was a cat lying on the floor."
The two-storey maisonette was filled with so much smoke that nothing was visible, but using her handheld thermal imaging device Lieutenant Oh, 29, and her team were able to locate and evacuate all the cats, she told The Straits Times in an interview on Thursday (April 28).
The firefighters were responding to a fire at Block 422 Fajar Road, in Bukit Panjang.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers were alerted to the fire at 8.30am and had to force their way into the unit.
No humans were home at the time.
Lt Oh and another firefighter - Corporal Marco Lim, 25 - were the first into the flat and began searching for possible casualties, she said.
Cpl Lim and others put out the fire - which was mostly confined to the flat's service yard - using compressed air foam backpacks within 10 minutes, and then quickly started to help evacuate the cats.
The team formed a human chain to pass the animals out of the flat to get them away from the smoke.
They then laid the cats down in a stairwell about one unit away from the burning flat and began tending to them.
Smoke inhalation can make it difficult for humans and other animals to breathe, and can eventually cause death through suffocation.
Meanwhile, other firefighters in the team of 20 responders evacuated the surrounding flats and dealt with remains of the fire.
Many of the cats were sluggish and soot covered their faces, making it difficult for them to breathe, said Cpl Lim.
The firefighters gave the cats oxygen from their personal breathing devices and then from oxygen tanks, which were brought up later.
Luckily, Cpl Lim, a full-time national serviceman, had previously worked in a pet hotel for about six months and knew how to handle the animals, he said.
He and four other firefighters also gave the cats water using syringes.
Three of the cats showed no signs of life during evacuation and had to be resuscitated, said Staff Sergeant Mohammad Yazid Mohammad Yusof, 39.
SSG Yazid, an emergency medical technician, said while firefighters are not specially trained to give medical aid to animals, they are trained to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on small children.
He said: "So three of us did a similar thing for the cats, where you use two fingers, instead of your palms, to help pump the heart."
Two of the three cats eventually regained consciousness after CPR, while one died.
SSG Yazid said: "After a while, I could feel the breath starting to come out of the cat's mouth, and I could feel its pulse."
The Straits Times visited the unit on April 22 and spoke to Madam Azizah and her husband, who said they are the owners of the flat and cats.
Madam Azizah, who declined to give her full name, said nobody was in the second-storey unit when the fire broke out.
Tears welled up as she expressed her gratitude to the firefighters for saving her cats, which she described as her family.
"I'm really grateful for their compassion and quick thinking. They didn't care that these were animals; they only thought about saving lives," she said.
ST understands the cats are doing well and are still receiving medical attention.