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SCDF NSF drowns in ragging incident; Police arrest 2 regulars

SINGAPORE — A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) full-time national serviceman has died after he was found at the bottom of a fire station's pump well, the first death resulting from ragging in the service.

The pump well that Corporal Kok Yuen Chin drowned in is about 12 metres deep and its opening is 1.8 metres in diameter. At the time of the incident, the water level in the well was about 11 metres deep.

The pump well that Corporal Kok Yuen Chin drowned in is about 12 metres deep and its opening is 1.8 metres in diameter. At the time of the incident, the water level in the well was about 11 metres deep.

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SINGAPORE — A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) full-time national serviceman has died after he was found at the bottom of a fire station's pump well, the first death resulting from ragging in the service.

Two regular servicemen —  a Warrant Officer 1 and a Staff Sergeant — have been arrested following preliminary investigations which have pointed to prohibited activities taking place, while a Board of Inquiry (BOI) will be convened to look into the matter.

According to a SCDF news release on Monday (May 14), Corporal Kok Yuen Chin had been celebrating his impending end of full-time national service with his squad mates the night before.

One of the celebratory activities involved him getting into the pump well at Tuas View Fire Station. The pump well is a reservoir of water used by fire station personnel for training and for testing the pumps of fire engines.

According to the SCDF, the pump well is about 12 metres deep and its opening is 1.8 metres in diameter. At the time of the incident, the water level in the well was about 11 metres deep.

The 22-year-old, who was due to end his service on Wednesday, did not resurface. When a few other SCDF personnel tried to look for him, they could not find him.

“Corporal Kok was eventually pulled out from the well after the water had been drained," the SCDF said.

Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation was immediately administered by a paramedic, followed by the use of an automated external defibrillator. He was conveyed to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Corporal Kok is a Malaysia national and a Singapore Permanent Resident. His family has collected his body, and has brought his body back to Malaysia.

Ragging may involve humiliation and harassment by more senior figures. The SCDF said the two regular servicemen who were arrested were Kok's colleagues who worked in the same shift duty at the Tuas View Fire Station.

Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon, Home Affairs and Law minister K Shanmugam said the authorities will “get to the bottom” of the matter, which he called a “celebration that went wrong”.

“Police are investigating. The facts I’ve been given so far, they make it quite clear that conduct was quite wrong of some of the people involved,” said the minister.

“It was in clear violation of SCDF’s rules, it should not have happened, unacceptable, period.”

Mr Shanmugam pledged to “get to the bottom” of the matter.

“There will also be a Board of Inquiry and details will be released in due course. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to go into the details right now but be clear: the facts will come out, we will get to the bottom of it and they’ll be put out.”

He added: “It was a tragic loss of life, young man full of potential. I met his family members, his father, his aunt and his uncle earlier. At this stage SCDF is doing everything they can to assist the family.”

“Nothing is going to bring the young man back to life. It was a tragic loss, investigations are continuing,” he added.

The Police are conducting investigations, on what had happened, including how he fell into the pump well, and whether any person(s) are criminally responsible, said the SCDF’s news release.

The full details of the BOI will be made public in due course, it added.

Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, 22, died after he was found at the bottom of a fire station's pump well. Photo: Facebook

On Monday, the SCDF said that based on preliminary investigations, “it appears that the mishap arose as a result of activities which SCDF has prohibited”.

While it did not go into detail about what these prohibited activities were, it noted: “Severe punishments and deterrent action have been meted out in the past to personnel who engaged in unauthorised activities.”

Current and former SCDF officers whom TODAY spoke to brought up a serious ragging incident that happened at a fire station about 10 years ago.

After the NSFs involved received “severe disciplinary action”, “everyone knew the consequences and were afraid to do such things that could cause injury,” said a former firefighter who left the SCDF two years ago for the private sector.

“But people think it’s funny and try to do it again,” he added.

According to the officers, ragging could involve activities as mundane as acting or singing in front of everyone, or applying Kiwi shoe polish to their bodies. It usually happens as an “initiation” for new trainees assigned to a fire station or before they complete their NS.

Another ex-firefighter, who served his NS in the SCDF, said he had seen NSFs being thrown into pump wells before, which are “very deep”. He further noted that they would usually require help climbing out, especially if the well is more than half-full with water.

The activity is also “a pretty popular choice" for ragging activity, and cuts across all fire stations, he added. While he was personally ragged when he first became a firefighter, he said his experience was not a bad one.

“I don’t know what happened to (CPL Kok)… but he might have hit his head when he was tossed into the well,” he said.

“Ragging is always dangerous. That’s what makes it intense – we’re in the company of men, and in some ways, it’s how they bond and form a camaraderie. And it’s also kids wanting to have some fun until someone loses an eye… hopefully now things can change.”

This is not the first time SCDF personnel have come under the spotlight.

In 2015, the SCDF said it was investigating two viral videos that showed its personnel trashing a dorm, swearing and smoking.

In 2016, a 21-year-old full-time SCDF national serviceman was found dead at a training institute at Jalan Bahar. Edwin Ong Koon Chwee, 21, had enlisted in the SCDF three days before, and had posted on social media about his “slight depression”.

Corporal Kok’s death also comes barely two weeks after the death of another NSF. Late last month, Private Dave Han Xuan Lee, a Guardsman, died after being warded in hospital.

Private Lee was found with signs of heat injury after an 8km fast march at Bedok Camp at about 8.35am on April 18. He was taken to Changi General Hospital and warded in the intensive care unit but his condition did not improve. He died at about 5.30pm on April 30.

On Monday, the SCDF said it will “continually educate our personnel, including during their foundation courses, briefings at recruit and specialist levels, as well as at periodic intervals, to make clear to our officers the risks of such activities and that they are prohibited”.

The SCDF said it has a whistle-blowing programme in place to help identify irresponsible behaviour.

 “SCDF will be conducting briefings in all its fire stations and bases, and check again whether there were any such activities in the recent past,” it added.

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