New rules empowering SCDF officers to remove barriers and obtain fingerprints during emergencies

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
(Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers will be allowed to break down doors or close roads and obtain fingerprints from unconscious persons during emergencies, after Parliament approved amendments to the Civil Defence Act on Tuesday (20 November).

This will give the officers powers to enter private premises and remove obstacles in their way to extricate persons in emergency and rescue operations, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo.

They will also be given protection from legal liabilities when they are required to take risks during operations, such as cutting open trapped vehicles.

“SCDF officers ought to be allowed to focus on the job at hand on saving lives, without being distracted by concerns about whether they would be charged or sued for damages caused while performing their duties,” Teo said.

She stressed, however, this does not mean that officers can act “with wanton disregard”. The protection applies in situations when they have “acted in good faith and reasonable care,” she added.

The powers and protection from legal liability will also be extended to private ambulance operators as well as Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) medics attached to SCDF, when they are attending to emergency calls.

Obtaining fingerprints during emergencies

SCDF officers and other authorised individuals attending to EMS calls will also allowed be to obtain the fingerprints or other personal identifiers of a person whose identity is not known or is unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate.

Teo noted that the identities of eight per cent of some 165,000 EMS patients attended to in 2017, or 14,000 of them, could not be confirmed because some were unresponsive or did not carry identification cards.

“If such patients could have been identified, the ambulance crew could have expeditiously obtained the relevant health information from MOH and deliver more appropriate and timely medical interventions,” she added.

Teo said that the Ministry of Home Affairs will work with the Ministry of Health to grant the authorised personnel access to the relevant health information, “strictly on a need-to-know basis”.

SCDF will also put in place IT processes including password-protected and information-encrypted devices to capture fingerprints as well as imposing penalties for any misuse, she added.

Installing emergency devices in buildings

It will also be an offence for building owners to not provide SCDF with access to their premises for the installation of prescribed emergency devices, such as public warning system sirens. SCDF will also be empowered to enter premises to assess and repair the emergency devices. 

Non-compliant building owners can be fined up to $10,000 and jailed up to three years. They can also be fined up to a further $1,000 for each day of non-compliance after conviction.

Additionally, any wilful removal or destruction, damage or tampering of emergency devices may result in a fine of up to $50,00 and a jail term of up to three years.

Teo said, “We hope building owners recognise the importance of the public warning system and come onboard willingly. Legal action will be taken as a last resort against building owners who refuse to cooperate for no good reason.”

Longer age of service allowed

SCDF NSmen will also be allowed to serve beyond the stipulated maximum age of 40 for those ranked Senior Warrant Officer and below, and 50 for Second Lieutenants and above.

“It is in line with what SAF and Police NSmen are currently allowed to do,” said Teo.

Changes will also be introduced to SCDF’s summary trial process. For instance, to address situations where offences only come to light later, SCDF national servicemen can be tried within three years from the day the offence was reported or discovered. 

It will also be an offence for SCDF officers to not comply with orders to go for medical examinations or treatment, including vaccinations.

In addition, any person who impersonates or misrepresents himself as an SCDF officer may also be fined up to S$2,500 and jailed up to six months.

Offenders who manufacture or sell SCDF uniforms or insignia without proper authorisation can also be fined up to S$10,000 and jailed up to three years.