We went to the Hill Street Central Fire Station one Saturday morning for their famous weekly open house.
I was so glad that we finally made it down, because it was simply one of the best learning visits we’ve ever been to (and totally free of charge to boot)! I left feeling most inspired by what our Civil Defence does, and also left with a renewed respect for our firemen.
The open house lasts from 9am to 11am, and folks can walk in anytime. So when we arrived at about 930am, it was already in full swing. I was surprised to see that the crowd mainly comprised non-Singaporeans – word must have been going round about this open house!
The knowledgeable guide on duty that day (a volunteer, as he later informed us) was explaining the components of a fireman’s suit, in the photo above.
The kids then had an opportunity to take photos with the very obliging fireman. We were told not to take too long, cos it’s really hot inside that suit!
The friendly firemen went round giving out little plastic red hats to the kids too. Such a nice touch. I wanted to explain “Civil Defence” to the kids, and 6 year old K said that she understood what it was, since their school had just observed Total Defence Day. Wow – good job at educating the kids, MOE!
What really impressed me about the SCDF (Singapore Civil Defence Force) was how the firemen bothered to participate in this entire open house whilst being on active duty. The guide did mention that sometimes, a “full turn-out” occurs, where all the fire engines and ambulances are called out on duty in the course of the session, and there are no more men to help with the demonstrations, and no vehicles to explore.
He didn’t speak too soon either, for within minutes, one ambulance called out on duty, and we could hear the call coming in through the public announcement system. They herded the visitors to one side so we could see the ambulance driving out of the big red doors facing the main road (top right pix of photo below).
Then, within the next hour, a fire engine and two motorbikes were called out. As the kids were exploring this other huge fire engine and clambering up and down its front cabin (including B messing around at the driver’s seat!), another alarm sounded, and the firemen had to ask parents to get their kids off. Within minutes, that exact fire engine was off responding to the call of duty!
I was amazed at how open they were in allowing children to get up close to the actual vehicles they use, and how friendly the firemen on active duty were. Rota one, thank you!
The kids also got to check out every portion of Singapore’s locally designed Red Rhino, which is capable of maneuvering into every corner of a HDB void deck. Being small, it only carries 50 litres of water. The kids got a turn to operate the ‘water mist gun’! B had far too little strength to pull the ‘trigger’, but she got some help whilst still being able to hold it and pose for the camera. : )
We were then treated to a very professional demonstration of how our firefighters descend the famous pole in all fire stations. They demonstrated the American “bear hug” descent, and the Singaporean “arm pit hold” descent, which looked seriously stylo-milo (and a bit like pole dancing). Phweeeeet.
There was a slight delay before this demonstration, since the folks who were supposed to conduct it were all called off on duty. Thankfully there were enough men still left in the fire station to continue with the rest of the activities.
They demonstrated how a rescue operation would be carried out – the priority is always to rescue trapped humans in the building, before putting out the fire. The hose has a nozzle that can can create a ‘water screen’ to push away smoke to increase visibility. Then after the humans are rescued, the nozzle can be rotated to stream out a powerful jet for better fire-fighting. Impressive!
There were so many visitors, and almost everyone came with kids. The visitors you see in the photo above were only half of the total, since the other half was standing on the other side with us……
We must commend the volunteer guide, who patiently explained so many aspects of the work that the SCDF does with dead-pan humour. He checked with the firemen whether the kids would get a chance to operate the fire hose. When given the go-ahead, he then explained that, “This is a no-win situation. When we don’t allow, people say we stingy. When we allow, people say we waste water.”
So they cleverly got around this conundrum by aiming the hose at the Fort Canning gardens next door. Water the plants! All the kids queued up in two neat rows to have a turn and operating the lever that was set at a speed of 2 or 3. When it’s at speed 7, two men have to hold the hose! Our guide also mentioned that well-meaning individuals sometimes try to operate the hose, and get thrown back by it’s force.
Moral of the story? Get trained as a volunteer! Within 15 weeks (once a week sessions) you’ll get certified, as long as you’re a Singaporean citizen or PR and between the ages of 18 and 45. Certainly very inspiring!
I had a friend who used to go on and on about how she finds the Police Force so much more real as compared to Mindef (no offence, Mindef folks), since they attend to real life situations daily. Now I have added the SCDF to the list! Whether it is extricating trapped individuals from cars (our guide gave a stern warning to all the children present to belt up in cars, since he’d seen too many tragedies of kids who didn’t), or risking their lives to go into buildings on fire to rescue those who have passed out from smoke inhalation, our men and women in the Civil Defence are real life everyday heroes. A big salute to them!
The visit had me singing “There’s a part for everyone, in this land that we belong…” [p.s. I found a youtube video of the original footage, with original vocals of this 1984 national day song. Watching it brings tears to my eyes.]
Thereafter, we took some time to explore the Heritage Gallery. Tucked in a corner past this beautiful red spiral staircase, it hosts two floors of displays.
On the ground floor are some beautiful old fire engines, restored to shiny glory.
There was also an old telephone, which relates to how fires were more quickly put out once fire stations were equipped with them.
There was also a very educational video on the great fire of Bukit Ho Swee, with dramatic footage of the fire of 1961, and how the wooden attap homes were razed to the ground amidst billowing smoke.
On the second floor was the newly opened (2 Feb 2015) Emergency Preparedness Centre (open Tuesday to Sunday, including Public Holidays, 10am – 5pm). Small but packed with interactive exhibits, it is particularly suitable for primary school aged children.
K made a pencil shading of the Central Fire Station, which is one of the most beautiful and distinctive buildings in Singapore to me. Then she went home and added some clouds and a street sign. : )
What a meaningful and educational visit – do make it a point to drop by if you haven’t already!