Fire hydrants at East Coast blaze were 'in working order', says PUB, despite conflicting accounts from residents
SINGAPORE — The fire hydrants near Monday's (Jan 9) blaze at East Coast Road were found to be "in working order" the next day, national water agency PUB said, despite eyewitness accounts that firefighters faced difficulties when operating one of the fire hydrant, which allowed the fire to spread.
- A fire broke out at one of the houses along a stretch of terrace houses on East Coast Road on Monday (Jan 9) night
- According to residents, firefighters on the scene struggled for 30 minutes to get the nearest fire hydrant to work
- The fire was extinguished at 1.50am on Tuesday, around two hours after they were alerted to the emergency
- National water agency PUB said that the fire hydrants were in working order when officers checked the next day
- The latest incident has cast a spotlight on firefighting delays, following several high-profile blazes in which emergency responders were hindered for various reasons
SINGAPORE — The fire hydrants near Monday's (Jan 9) blaze at East Coast Road were found to be "in working order" the next day, national water agency PUB said, despite eyewitness accounts that firefighters faced difficulties when operating one of the fire hydrants, which allowed the fire to spread.
Residents at the scene on the night of the fire said they watched emergency responders take half an hour to get a fire hydrant to work. In the end, the fire damaged six terrace houses and injured one person.
As the conflagration spread from home to home, some residents also exclaimed if things might have been different if the equipment worked as they should, eyewitnesses told TODAY at the scene.
Responding to media queries on Wednesday, PUB said it conducted checks on the fire hydrants in the area on Tuesday morning and found that they were working. There was also sufficient water pressure within our supply network to support the operations of Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), the agency added.
PUB is also working with SCDF to ascertain the facts of the incident, said the agency.
TODAY has reached out to SCDF to enquire if there were issues with the fire hydrants at the location and how this affected firefighting operations.
The latest incident has cast a spotlight on firefighting delays, following several high-profile blazes in which emergency responders were hindered for various reasons.
In September 2019, firefighters called to a fire in a Bukit Batok flat struggled to get access to fire hose cabinets that were padlocked to prevent vandalism.
Even after one of the padlocks was broken, they were still unable to use the hose reel because there was no water supply. The courts later found that a technician had been negligently shut off the water supply and was fined S$2,700.
In another case at Henderson on Dec 8 last year, firefighting efforts were also delayed by 18 minutes, as a funeral tent had obstructed the fire engine access way.
Officers spent the additional time removing the bollards that were padlocked to the ground near the tent to create an access path. The Tanjong Pagar Town Council has since issued a summons to the contractor responsible for putting up the tent.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE EAST COAST FIRE?
SCDF said it was alerted to a fire at 12S East Coast Road at 11.50pm on Monday and that upon arrival, the fire was “well alight and had affected four terrace house units”.
The blaze was extinguished at about 1.50am, two hours after SCDF was first alerted to the emergency.
One person was assessed by an SCDF paramedic for a minor burn injury and taken to Singapore General Hospital. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, SCDF said.
The responsibility of maintaining public fire hydrants collectively falls on PUB and SCDF, as water for public fire hydrants is supplied via PUB pipelines.
PUB's records show that the hydrants along East Coast Road were last inspected in March 2022.
When TODAY visited the scene of the fire at around noon on Tuesday, SCDF officers were still at the scene.
Residents said the fire had begun spreading to neighbouring houses when SCDF arrived, and while the officers worked fast to hook their equipment to a nearby fire hydrant, they faced difficulties getting it to work
The fire was eventually put out at around 1.50am when firefighters managed to get the first fire hydrant working, after 30 minutes of "struggling" with it, said Mr Christopher Pang, who owns the house two doors down from unit 12Q where the blaze was believed to have started.
By then, six houses had been damaged by the fire.
One eyewitness, a 48-year-old housewife who wanted to be known only as Ms Cho, told TODAY that people at the scene spoke openly about how the damage could have been lessened if the hydrant had been working properly.
Ms Cho told TODAY that SCDF officers were not able to connect their hoses to this fire hydrant because the covers to the hydrant appeared to be stuck.
The SCDF officers then resorted to using another hydrant located at the end of the street, but because of the distance, the stream lacked water pressure and was unable to reach the inferno inside the house, eyewitnesses said.
The officers could be seen striking at the concrete around the first fire hydrant with tools, in an apparent attempt to get the fire hydrant to work, based on video footage that later circulated on TikTok.
AFFECTED RESIDENTS TO FIND ALTERNATE LIVING ARRANGEMENTS
Several of the occupants of the houses affected by the fire were seen standing near their properties on Tuesday as SCDF officers accessed the damage from the fire.
Due to potential structural damage caused by the fire, the residents of all six affected homes will now have to find alternative accommodations, they told TODAY.
“I always wanted a sky roof, now I have a sky roof”, Mr Pang said wistfully as he looked at his house, which now had a huge gaping hole in the roof.
He told TODAY that when he realised there was a fire, he tried to hose down the walls nearest to the fire on his property.
“We were just trying to slow down the process of spreading, but when the SCDF came, they said we had to evacuate, so I had to stop.”
He said his master bedroom was the most badly affected out of all the rooms in his house, with the entire room being essentially charred by the fire. But luckily, he and three other family who were home at the time were able to evacuate before the fire reached their house.
Mr Pang, who works in the real estate industry, told TODAY he and his family have sought temporary accommodation at the nearby Hotel V Katong, though this arrangement will only last for a week.
He added that he hopes to be able to rent a unit nearby as his home undergoes repairs.
Another resident, a retiree who only wanted to be known as Mr Chong, 64, said he did not expect the fire to spread so quickly.
After the fire was put out, he waited around outside his property for an SCDF officer to accompany him into his house to collect some documents.
He told TODAY that he is unsure what to do next when asked about his living arrangements. “I’m taking it step by step, need to see how.”
MORE COULD HAVE BEEN DONE: FIRE SAFETY EXPERTS
In light of the recent cases of residential fires that encountered delays in firefighting response, fire safety experts said more could be done to ensure that life and property are safeguarded.
Ms Gwen Phoo, head of marketing at residential fire protection company Falcon Fire, said that the onus lies on the authorities to step up their checks so that the past cases do not repeat itself.
For fire hydrants found in public areas, such as those in the East Coast fire, Ms Phoo said SCDF conducts regular checks to ensure that the hydrants are in good working condition.
While the water supply comes directly from PUB pipeline, SCDF is responsible for ensuring that pressure and flow rate meet basic fire fighting requirement, she added.
Fire hydrants located indoors and within private areas are maintained by the property owner, whose duty is to check and ensure that it meets the stipulated flow rate and pressure, said Ms Phoo.
Nevertheless, Ms Phoo suggested that SCDF increase the frequency of its checks to ensure that fire hydrants work "in a time of need".
Assoc Prof Razwana Begum, head of the public safety and security programme at Singapore University of Social Sciences, added that besides the authorities, there is a need for greater sharing and engagement about fire safety measures with various stakeholders, including the community.
"For some of the oversight requirements and regulatory protocols (surrounding firefighting equipment), the community members can play a role to monitor as well," she said.
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