Bukit Batok fire: No water supply as pump room switch was in wrong mode, says town council

The fire took place at 13th-floor unit of Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21 during the early morning hours of 1 November. (PHOTO: SCDF)

SINGAPORE — The reason why firefighters were left without a water supply to combat a fire at a 13th-floor Bukit Batok HDB unit last month was because a contractor had left the block’s pump room selector switch in the wrong mode.

In a news release on Monday (2 November), the Jurong-Clementi Town Council (JCTC) said it had concluded its investigation into the incident, which took place at Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21 during the early morning hours of 1 November. Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers responding to the fire found that the fire hose reel cabinet was locked.

Even after breaking the locks to the cabinet, the hose reel itself was found to be dry as there was no water supply.

“(JCTC’s investigation) has found that J. Keart Alliances Pte Ltd (JKeart), the contractor responsible for maintaining the hose reels, had been negligent in failing to ensure that a selector switch at the pump room in Block 210A was in the correct mode following a maintenance exercise of the pumps carried out two weeks beforehand,” said the town council.

“As a result, JCTC will issue a Notice of Non-Performance to JKeart holding it contractually responsible for the failure,” it added.

A couple in their 60s, including a woman named Madam Goh, and their son, who is in his 30s, suffered from smoke inhalation and burn injuries due to the fire incident.

 “JCTC Town Councillors continue to keep Madam Goh and her family in our thoughts and prayers,” said the town council’s release.

Contractor’s employee tried to cover up mistake

JCTC said that JKeart had provided the town council with a report asserting that the hose reels at the block “had been properly maintained and, in particular, that there was water supply to the hose reels at the material time”.

This report contradicted the SCDF’s findings that the 13th-floor hose reel had no water supply during its firefighting operation at about 4.30am on the day of the fire, said the town council.

JCTC added that apart from interviewing JKeart and its employees, it also examined footage from CCTV cameras installed at the block. The investigations found that at 8am on 1 November – after the fire – a JKeart employee had taken a lift at the block to its top floor, from where the pump room may be accessed.

JKeart then revisited the matter with its employee, who confessed that he had visited the pump room after the fire on that day and found that the selector switch was in “manual” mode – which meant that no water would have been pumped to the hose reel system during the fire. Upon seeing this, he immediately adjusted the selector switch to “auto” mode, which activated the pumping of water to the hose reel system.

The switch to “manual” mode had taken place during a maintenance inspection conducted two weeks before the fire and the employee had forgotten to turn it back to “auto” mode. JKeart also told JCTC that it has taken “appropriate action” against the employee, who will be “redeployed”.

Why hose reel cabinets were locked

On the hose reel cabinets being secured with small padlocks, JCTC said that this action had been undertaken by one of its property officers following frequent cases of vandalism.

“This was a mistake, as it meant that the cabinets could only be opened with force during an emergency, as SCDF had done during the recent fire incident,” said the town council.

“While the officer has provided dedicated service to JCTC over many years, he will be redeployed. Two senior officers with supervisory roles over the officer will also be penalised,” it added.

Vandalism of fire safety gear

Separately, JCTC said its officers had inspected the hose reels, fire extinguishers and other fire safety gear in all its seven wards. While nearly all the hose reel systems were found to be in operating condition, many hose reel cabinets had been damaged due to vandalism.

“In a few instances, other fire safety equipment had also been vandalised. JCTC is taking urgent steps to repair and replace the damaged cabinets and equipment,” said the town council, adding that it would not hesitate to refer those found damaging or misusing fire safety equipment to the authorities.

JCTC also said that it was looking into other means to minimise the incidents of such vandalism, including new designs for hose reel and fire extinguisher cabinets as well as their locking mechanisms.

The town council said a committee of elected Town Councillors had been formed to recommend additional measures to ensure the reliability of fire emergency equipment. Comprising JCTC chairman Ang Wei Neng and Dr Tan Wu Meng – both Jurong GRC MPs – as well as Bukit Batok SMC MP Dr Murali Pillai, the committee will engage independent experts and residents in crafting its proposals.

Related stories:

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

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