SCDF officer to be charged over death of NSF who was allegedly left alone to fight fire
The superior of a 19-year-old full-time national serviceman (NSF) who suffocated to death after a firefighting operation at a Henderson Road Housing Board flat will be charged on Monday.
The NSF is the first firefighter to have died during a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) firefighting operation.
In a statement on Saturday, the Singapore Police Force said the 38-year-old SCDF officer had allegedly left the NSF, Sergeant 1 Edward H. Go, alone in a unit in Block 91 on Dec 8, 2022, to fight the ongoing fire without informing anyone. This went against standard procedures.
The SCDF officer will be charged with causing grievous hurt by a rash act which endangers life or the personal safety of others. If convicted, the offence is punishable with imprisonment of up to four years, or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
The autopsy certified that Sgt 1 Go died of suffocation due to a depleted air cylinder. The police said investigations did not find any evidence to suggest Sgt 1 Go’s death was due to equipment failure.
Speaking to the press on Saturday at SCDF’s headquarters in Ubi, SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap said that the officer to be charged went against SCDF’s firefighting doctrine by leaving Sgt 1 Go alone in the flat.
Separately, the police have referred another officer to SCDF for investigations related to the same incident.
This officer allegedly failed to adequately ensure the overall safety of the firefighting operation when he subsequently arrived and took over command and control of the incident, said SCDF.
In the interim, SCDF has redeployed the officer to a non-supervisory and non-operational post.
After the incident, SCDF conducted a thorough review of its firefighting procedures, operational safety, equipping and training.
The review found that SCDF doctrine on firefighting is consistently and systematically taught to officers and is practised on the ground, said Mr Yap.
“Nevertheless, we have reviewed the selection and training of our ground commanders. This includes conducting exercises to stress test their command and control abilities,” he added.
As part of the review, SCDF also audited more than 260 firefighting operations conducted between January 2021 and December 2022 to assess if they had appropriate command and control with safety for officers. The audit found that the operations were competent and safe, but there were occasional individual lapses.
These lapses are not uncommon in a dynamic situation like a firefighting operation. But to minimise them, Mr Yap said SCDF has tightened measures, including making sure that equipment is checked upon arrival before entering the site of a fire.
For larger and more complex fires, SCDF’s firefighting doctrine already requires the establishment of a staging and breathing apparatus control officer control point to help monitor the deployment of firefighters, and to check on their personal protective equipment before they enter the scene of the fire, he said.
Since Sept 18, 2023, SCDF has introduced the same control point for smaller fires, like residential unit fires, to strengthen command and control, and safety, he said.
Mr Yap said SCDF will continue to provide Sgt 1 Go’s family with the assistance they need. “It is especially painful because we have lost a colleague, and the SCDF has never lost anyone in a firefighting operation before this incident.”
Sgt 1 Go’s family has been informed about the planned charge against the officer and the autopsy findings.
A board of inquiry will be convened to investigate the death of Sgt 1 Go, who fell unconscious in the kitchen of the fourth-floor flat when putting out the fire.
A statement from SCDF after the incident said that his crew immediately took him out of the unit and administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him.
An SCDF ambulance crew at the scene also used an automated external defibrillator on him and took him to Singapore General Hospital. He was pronounced dead in hospital.
The 19-year-old had fared well in other mandatory course requirements and attended to nearly 60 fire and rescue calls after he was posted to the Central Fire Station in May 2022.
He was also certified medically fit before his enlistment and categorised under the physical employment standard (PES) as PES A. Servicemen in this category are considered suitable for front-line operational vocations such as firefighting.
Sgt 1 Go attained a gold standard in his Individual Physical Proficiency Test and an A grade in his Breathing Apparatus Proficiency Test – both of which are tests that all NSFs must go through before they can be deployed as firefighters.