Bukit Batok fire: MP Murali Pillai apologises over locked hose reel cabinets, says 2 town council staff to be disciplined

Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — Bukit Batok SMC Member of Parliament Murali Pillai apologised on Friday (15 November) over the fire incident at a block in his ward where firefighters at the scene encountered padlocked hose reel cabinets and the absence of water supply. 

On 1 November, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) firefighters arrived at Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21 to combat a fire at the 13th floor. They came across the padlocked cabinets and had to break one of them to access the hose reel but were unable to use it as there was no water supply. Instead, they extinguished the fire using water from the SCDF’s emergency vehicles. 

In a post on his Facebook page on Friday, Murali said, “As your elected representative, I am politically accountable to you for these issues...These incidents should not have happened and, for that, I must apologise. I will work with my elected & appointed Town Councillors to review this case and ensure that the fire safety system is strengthened to ensure its reliability.”

In response to media queries, Ana Zakaria, public relations manager for the Jurong-Clementi Town Council, said on Thursday that the hose reels had previously been frequently misused and vandalised. “As a precaution, a small padlock was used to prevent casual vandalism. We have since removed all padlocks.” she added.

On the padlocking issue, Murali said the Town Council identified two officers as being responsible. “This was a mistake on their part. They have admitted to their mistakes. The Town Council management will pursue disciplinary action against them,” he added.

SCDF firefighters at a Block 210A Bukit Batok flat following a fire there on 1 November, 2019. (PHOTO: SCDF)

As for the water supply issue, JKeart, the contractor responsible for maintaining the fire hoses, “insisted that there was water supply to the hose reel in question at the material time”.

JKeart provided to the Town Council a video of the hose reel in question in working condition on the day of the fire incident, according to Murali. The Town Council then met with SCDF officers earlier this week to provide what JKeart showed. Thereafter, the Town Council issued a statement accepting SCDF’s position on the matter and is now investigating JKeart’s assertions, he added.

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan has commented several times about the shortcomings arising from the incident. In a post on Thursday, Dr Chee said, “The matter is of intense public interest and the longer Mr Murali delays giving a full account of the violations, the bigger the mockery he makes of Mr Heng Swee Keat’s call for MPs to win trust by being open and transparent.”

In his response to Murali’s post, Dr Chee said in a separate post on Friday to commend the MP for addressing the matter. “I am gratified to note that the Town Council is investigating the inconsistencies and dubious practices, and that it will take action where needed,” he added.

In 2016, the SDP secretary-general lost to Murali in the Bukit Batok by-election.

Murali highlighted in his post that he had turned up at the scene just before 8am and by then, the three fire victims were already conveyed to hospital.

While walking with the SCDF officers, the MP said that he learnt about the issues regarding the access and deployment of firehose on the 13th floor.

Murali said he then focused on assisting the families affected by the fire at the block and also visited the fire victims in hospital. He revealed that one of the victims, Mdm Goh, was still in an intensive care unit and that he met her family members there. 

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Related story:

Hose reel cabinets at Bukit Batok block padlocked to prevent vandalism, says Jurong-Clementi Town Council: report