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Final Day at Work: The SCDF officer who cared for individuals and helped save lives – NEWPAPER24



Final Day at Work: The SCDF officer who cared for individuals and helped save lives

2019-03-17 01:55:33

SINGAPORE: On his final day of labor, Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) Christopher Tan’s spacious workplace was unusually messy.

The 60-year-old pulled out dozens of previous photographs, smiling and reminiscing about his 35 years within the Singapore Civil Defence Pressure (SCDF). In spite of everything, it was his one and solely profession. 

A number of the photographs are organized in neat albums, others stacked in haphazard piles. In a single picture he’s beaming, carried on the shoulders of cheering colleagues. In one other he’s stern, getting briefed close to a badly burnt shophouse.

SAC Tan has led battles in opposition to fires of all types: The sort that razed homes and killed individuals, and the sort that engulfed industrial buildings and despatched metal drums flying.

He’s additionally witnessed the devastating aftermath of a significant earthquake, commanding a workforce toiling by means of the evening to sieve by means of rubble for indicators of life.

SAC Tan stated he has really “loved” his profession. “Tomorrow once I get up, I’ll out of the blue realise that it has modified, in order that’s a little bit of disappointment I’ll have with me.” (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

As a senior officer, his major obligation on the frontline was command and management. However he is additionally had some quieter moments.

SAC Tan’s remaining put up was director of the hearth security and shelter division, the place he ensured new and current constructing designs complied with the Hearth Code, which reduces dangers within the occasion of a hearth. It was an unspectacular, but equally vital position.

Nonetheless, the early years of his profession epitomised the type of all-action job that comes with an entire lot of threat and honour, the sort that some youngsters develop up dreaming about.


The person himself, nevertheless, didn’t have grand ambitions of working with the SCDF.

In 1986, after graduating from the Nationwide College of Singapore with a level in constructing, SAC Tan seemed for a job related to his training. He gravitated towards a profession within the public service within the hope of higher pay and prospects. 

However on the time, the constructing and development business wasn’t precisely booming. “No one was hiring,” he informed Channel NewsAsia from his workplace on the SCDF headquarters in Ubi, lamenting the dearth of development initiatives again then.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan university
SAC Tan graduated from the Nationwide College of Singapore with a Bachelor of Science in Constructing. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

There was one job, although, which wasn’t superb however nonetheless appeared to suit: A place within the constructing plans department of the hearth security bureau, a unit within the then-named Singapore Hearth Service. His buddy from college, who was already within the power, beneficial him to use.

So Tan signed on with the SCDF as an officer. And as they are saying, the remainder is historical past. Nonetheless, he didn’t suppose he would spend the subsequent three many years of his life in the identical organisation. 

“Actually, I simply wanted a job,” SAC Tan admitted. “I simply needed to present myself an opportunity, to simply expertise it and see the way it goes.”

SCDF officer Christopher Tan fire safety bureau
SAC Tan as a fresh-faced officer in his new job. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

However quickly he discovered himself rising keen on his new job, the place he vetted constructing plans in opposition to the Hearth Code. This contains having fireplace extinguishers and sprinklers the place wanted, and making certain enough and handy escape routes.

SAC Tan was making use of his textbook data to real-life situations. “It excited me that I used to be doing one thing actual,” he stated. “No matter we suggested the engineers or architects, it’s going to have an effect on the security of the constructing.”


However the realities of his job had been solely going to develop into clearer. In 1990, SAC Tan turned officer commanding of the enduring Central Hearth Station on Hill Road, the place he took cost of about 100 personnel and 15 emergency autos.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan officer commanding
As officer commanding, SAC Tan additionally needed to perceive the generally tribal nature of fireplace station tradition to convey his expenses collectively. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

From behind a desk, SAC Tan was thrust onto the entrance line.

“What crossed my thoughts was now I used to be going to steer a workforce to battle a fireplace,” he stated. “Am I in a position to do it properly? As a result of they’ll have a look at you for path. And they’re individuals with many, a few years of expertise.

“Will they respect and settle for me as their superior?”

SCDF officer Christopher Tan shophouses
SAC Tan attending to a shophouse fireplace, receiving a short and watching his males handle reporters. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

SAC Tan overcame this by all the time asking his senior subordinates for recommendation throughout operations. He would contain them in discussions, and they might decide up on issues he missed.

“Individuals wish to be revered and handled properly,” he added. “If you seek the advice of them, they suppose you worth their views and expertise. That’s vital.”

SAC Tan additionally engaged his rank-and-file personnel about issues like welfare and dwelling circumstances on the station, desperate to see how they could possibly be improved.

“I don’t simply construct relationships with my bosses, however my males as properly,” he stated. “As a result of they would be the ones who will assist you and take care of your again. In a fireplace, if there’s a threat, they would be the ones pulling you out.”

SCDF officer Christopher Tan cheering
After leaving Central Hearth Station, SAC Tan turned head operations and coaching of the 2nd division, the place he led his expenses to victory on the annual civil defence expertise competitors. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

When it got here to combating fires, it was typically a matter of life and dying. Due to the station’s location, SAC Tan attended a number of incidents within the Rochor space, which then had plenty of fire-susceptible shophouses. He additionally witnessed plenty of deaths.

“It boils right down to poor fireplace security training and design,” SAC Tan stated, noting that the shophouses had been manufactured from supplies like timber, and had grilled home windows with just one staircase escape route.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan firefighter patches
SAC Tan collected firefighter patches from everywhere in the world, together with one from the New York Hearth Division. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

One specific incident caught in his reminiscence.

At midnight, he responded to yet one more shophouse fireplace close to Ophir Highway. The flames had been raging as his workforce battled to place it out rapidly. “We should not assume that there’s nobody trapped,” he stated. “The quicker we put it out, the quicker we will go inside and do a search and rescue operation.”

It was too late. On the second flooring, they discovered not less than seven our bodies. SAC Tan believes they weren’t in a position to escape as a result of the window was obstructed, a state of affairs made worse by overcrowding.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan helmets
SAC Tan’s workplace is embellished with numerous SCDF headgear. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

For SAC Tan, his a number of encounters with dying had taken a psychological toll, though he received used to it after some time.

“I do really feel a bit affected by it,” he stated. “Some are charred past recognition. However I do know for one which if we get emotionally connected, it’s going to have an effect on our actions and selections.

“Importantly, I inform my males: It’s essential to deal with every case you might be responding to as if you might be doing it in your family members.”


Because the years glided by, SAC Tan moved up the ranks, ultimately changing into commander of the 4th division in 1998 to supervise 4 fireplace stations in northwest Singapore.

He responded to even larger fires, like one which tore by means of an industrial warehouse in Jurong after reactive chemical substances had been improperly saved. The fireplace was so big it made metal barrels explode, turning them into harmful projectiles.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan division commander
As division commander, SAC Tan additionally labored with the House Workforce throughout joint operations and performed outreach efforts with the group. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

However maybe his hardest project but got here on Sep 21, 1999, when a 7.6-magnitude earthquake ravaged Taichung County in central Taiwan.

At 9am, the SCDF’s Operation Lionheart contingent, which supplies city search and rescue and humanitarian reduction help abroad, was placed on alert.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan Lionheart Nepal
This Ops Lionheart contingent getting ready for catastrophe reduction operations following the Nepal earthquake in 2015. (Picture: Fb/Singapore Civil Defence Pressure)

SAC Tan was the division commander on standby for the operation. “There was a really quick response time,” he stated. “That you must do plenty of issues when you find yourself activated.”

The boys needed to be referred to as again, whereas standby gear like drills and life detectors needed to be taken out and examined. On the identical time, SAC Tan was making an attempt to get extra data on the catastrophe, particulars of which had been “fairly sketchy”.

“All these raced by means of my thoughts as I attempted to make sense of what will occur there and the way I’m going to handle it,” he added.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan Lionheart Laos
The contingent additionally went on a mission to Laos after the flood in 2018. (Picture: Fb/Singapore Civil Defence Pressure)

Regardless of the whirlwind of his personal ideas, SAC Tan needed to put together his males. As quickly as they had been activated, he reminded them of what lay forward.

“We’ve got a mission and failure just isn’t an choice,” he pressured. “We’re going there to make a distinction and save lives.

“I informed them we’re going there collectively, we’re coming again collectively. Nobody goes to come back again in a field. So, I would like everybody to work as a workforce and care for one another’s security.”

By 5pm, 44 SCDF personnel – together with two operationally-ready nationwide servicemen and one full-time nationwide serviceman physician – along with 4 rescue canine departed for Taiwan in a navy aircraft. 


It was previous midnight on the catastrophe zone, however it was straightforward for SAC Tan to see the collapsed buildings, as he recalled one nine-storey constructing half submerged within the floor.

“We had been the primary abroad rescue workforce there, so there was no time for something,” he stated. “Simply straight into floor zero and the motion begins.”

SCDF officer Christopher Tan Taiwan earthquake
The 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan is devoted to the occasions of 1999. (Picture: Fb/Timea Sándor)

The rescue canine scoured a search space spanning a few blocks, narrowing it down for rescuers to detect motion or sound below the rubble.

With out native constructing plans, residents had been requested to sketch tough diagrams of the place their kitchens and bedrooms had been – seemingly locations the place survivors can be trapped – on cardboard bins. SAC Tan stated it might be wasteful for rescuers to spend hours inadvertently drilling into a rest room.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan Lionheart message
SAC Tan’s message to those that had expressed their appreciation for the rescue mission. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

The workforce ended up working for 72 hours straight with minimal relaxation, braving aftershocks whereas searching for one another. “We noticed lots of people in hysteria and crying,” SAC Tan stated. “You simply can’t cease. They’re relying on you to hopefully discover their family members.

“We didn’t really feel the tiredness till we lastly pulled out.”

Their efforts paid off. The workforce had saved two lives, together with an eight-year-old boy who had been trapped below the rubble for 30 hours. The mission had lasted an exhausting 22 days, one of many longest operations within the SCDF’s historical past.

“Even when it’s simply two lives, each life saved is monumental to us,” SAC Tan added. “It was successful.”

SCDF officer Christopher Tan Lionheart reception
After arriving in Singapore, the workforce was greeted by the Taiwanese group in a heartfelt gesture of thanks. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

On the catastrophe website, locals thanked the workforce for his or her efforts. One girl even gave SAC Tan a Bible in appreciation of his work.

“These are a number of the gestures that preserve you going,” he said. “This factor may be very a lot in us: After we prove for any rescue operation, irrespective of how daunting it’s, we’ve to present our greatest.”


SAC Tan thought he had handed probably the most tough take a look at of his profession, however in late 2005 he encountered one thing that might become much more difficult.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan Qatar officers
SAC Tan was based mostly in Doha throughout his two-year stint in Qatar. (Picture: Christopher Tan)

The Qatari authorities had requested Singapore for assist in establishing a fireplace security regulatory framework, so SAC Tan was requested to go there to do the job – for 2 years.

To maintain the household collectively, his spouse and two school-going daughters determined to come back alongside, that means they needed to take no-pay depart and a break from native training.

As soon as there, SAC Tan needed to overcome many difficulties, together with the sweltering 45-degree Celsius summers, lack of a assist group and an unfamiliar tradition.

At work, he stated the locals procrastinated lots, interrupted conferences and barely gave particular solutions, issues which hampered his job. “My concern was actually the deliverables,” he added. “They will take their time, however for us, no. As a result of two years they may ask what have you ever accomplished? Nothing.”

SCDF officer Christopher Tan Qatar lo hei
SAC Tan additionally discovered time for cultural exchanges, like this lo hei session with the locals. (Picture: Christopher Tan)

However he stayed affected person and constructed relationships with the Qataris, delivering what he wanted to whereas incomes their respect. He’s good pals with the ambassador until now, and the nation nonetheless sends its officers to Singapore for coaching.

On the social entrance, he made life simpler for Singaporeans working in Qatar by beginning a group for them to satisfy up and Share ideas. For his daughters, he discovered a piano trainer simply so they may proceed their classes, even flying certainly one of them out to Bahrain for a ballet examination.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan Qatar ambassador
SAC Tan made lasting friendships throughout his time in Qatar. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

When it was time to go dwelling, his daughters requested in the event that they actually wanted to. They’d made good pals on the worldwide college and requested if he may lengthen the contract. His household had gained lots and grown stronger, however “it’s time to return”, he stated.

SAC Tan stated his time in Qatar made him realise simply how a lot he took issues in Singapore with no consideration. “It was a life-learning expertise,” he added. “On reflection, it was not a foul determination.”


After returning dwelling in 2008, SAC Tan turned director of the Civil Defence Academy, which trains new recruits and different personnel in areas like firefighting and catastrophe administration.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan CDA bunker gear
As director of the Civil Defence Academy, SAC Tan climbed the host tower at Tampines Hearth Station with graduating cadets. (Picture: Christopher Tan)

He referred to as it certainly one of his most memorable postings, particularly as he continuously seemed to make sure everybody was well-trained for his or her jobs.

“Coaching, capability constructing is one thing that I loved doing,” he stated, including that he favored interacting with the individuals there. “How can we do it higher is all the time one thing in my thoughts.”

SCDF officer Christopher Tan CDA dining
SAC Tan presiding over the dining-in ceremony for graduating cadets. (Picture: Christopher Tan)

SAC Tan, a agency believer in utilizing expertise to do issues higher, took his job critically.

He changed bodily flip charts with Web-connected digital screens so coaching materials could possibly be conveniently up to date. He helped introduce a 3D, augmented actuality coaching simulator which helps trainees enhance their highway accident rescue expertise.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan CDA cadets
SAC Tan posing for a photograph with graduating cadets. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

Past that, he made it some extent to stroll the bottom day and evening, eat in the identical cookhouse because the trainees, and observe their coaching. This additionally stored instructors on their toes.

“They thought the director is within the workplace on a regular basis, in an air-con room not realizing what is occurring,” he stated. “However for me, no. The vital half is displaying the boys and instructors you might be critical about coaching.”


In 2013, SAC Tan left the academy to develop into director of the hearth security and shelter division, his remaining appointment earlier than retiring.

After beginning out in fireplace security, his profession had come full circle. Now he nonetheless handled constructing plans and the Hearth Code, however was helped by an important deal of expertise.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan fire safety software
SAC Tan and his colleagues finding out a fireplace mannequin projected on a display screen. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

For example, his workforce used fireplace modelling software program to check and enhance the parameters of the code, so that they had been not too restrictive. When builders required a waiver for advanced buildings just like the Sports activities Hub and Esplanade, he studied their various proposals and decided.

It was a high quality balancing act that generally concerned coping with profit-driven business gamers who did not like overregulation.

“I feel the misunderstanding that some individuals have of us is that we’re inflexible and rigid in the best way we regulate fireplace security,” SAC Tan stated.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan fire safety stakeholders
SAC Tan chairing a fireplace security technical committee with stakeholders. (Picture: Christopher Tan)

Quite the opposite, he stated it was vital to interact stakeholders for his or her experience and expertise, and focus on various options the place attainable.

“We are able to’t simply power it down their throat and power them to adjust to it,” he added. “We all the time take a calibrated method the place we assess any state of affairs or mission.

“You attempt to strike a steadiness, however at instances we’ve received to take a tough determination. Between profitability and life security, after all security takes priority. So, we’ve to chew the bullet.”

SCDF officer Christopher Tan fire safety colleague
As director of the hearth security and shelter division, SAC Tan spent period of time trying into fireplace code waivers. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

This job won’t be as thrilling as combating fires or saving lives, however SAC Tan stated it was simply as essential. “I all the time consider fireplace security is the upstream course of, you should do it properly,” he stated. “If a constructing is well-designed, probabilities of fireplace occurrences are decrease.”


On his final day of labor, SAC Tan nonetheless seemed enthusiastic about his job. He stated he’s by no means had a uninteresting second nor any main regrets in his profession.

If he needed to do one thing in another way, it might be spending extra time together with his colleagues and interesting them on a deeper stage.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan retirement speech
In his retirement speech, SAC Tan thanked his colleagues for guiding him and giving him the house to develop. “I do not deserve all these, however your generosity has truly helped to make my journey simpler.” (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

“I feel we’re so caught up within the day-to-day work, chasing reviews and all these items, that we don’t spend time constructing that relationship,” he stated. “The deeper conversations, understanding individuals higher.”

SAC Tan is a individuals individual. His smile is heat, and all through the interview he was all the time providing meals and drinks. “Don’t you wish to style the perfect prata right here?” he requested.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan retirement dinner
SAC Tan loved the relationships he is constructed over greater than three many years in service. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

He favored sharing his memorabilia with individuals too.

Moreover the previous photographs he pulled out, there was that Chinese language Bible from Taiwan, some prayer beads gifted by the Qataris, and a plaque from President Halimah Yacob thanking him for his service.

SCDF officer Christopher Tan plaque
SAC Tan stated his 35 years within the SCDF merely flew by. (Picture: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

Finally, probably the most rewarding a part of his job was not the tokens he had collected.

“After we are in a position to do it properly and see the joyful faces of individuals, the reassurance that we’ve dropped at them – placing out the hearth, stopping the unfold and so forth,” he stated. “That’s the most important satisfaction that I can get.”


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