The elderly 81-year-old Madam Lim Ee Chin who helped her neighbour during a fire deserves full praise, and I am glad that the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) promptly recognised her civic mindedness by presenting her with the Community First Responder Award (“Neighbourly help during fire transcends language barrier” – The Sunday Times, Sunday 20th September 2020).
A friend showed me a video clip on Sunday 20th September 2020 that revealed two vehicles, one a taxi, that caught fire at the car park near Block 201 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 last night. Under such circumstances, if the fire is not put out quickly, there is a real danger that it can spread to the flats just above the carpark as the incident took place at the void deck of a HDB block.
By 2030, there will be 1.8 million people in Singapore who are aged 65 years or older - making up about 28 per cent of the total population.
With a large number of these seniors living in private and public housing, some of whom may have mobility issues, there is need to provide them with a safe environment. There is also the need to take care of those who are handicapped.
Fires can break when you least expect it.
As a preventive measure, I propose that the government appoints a Voluntary Fire Safety Officer (VFSO) in each block of the HDB estates, and in private housing, the management committee can appoint a couple of them to look after a few blocks.
These VFSOs can be sent for training using the skills credit at SCDF centres. So, for example, if the volunteer is living in Ang Mo Kio, he/she gets the training from the Bishan Fire Station; if they stay in Aljunied or Paya Lebar vicinity, the training can be conducted at the Geylang Fire Station.
The SkillsFuture Credit aims to encourage individual ownership of skills development and lifelong learning. Introduced in 2015, all Singaporeans aged 25 and above will receive an opening credit of S$500.
Pay these VFSOs an allowance to encourage participation.
We must all look out for one another, adopting the Japanese “Can-do’ Attitude that says – “If one can do, I can do. If no one can do, I must do.”
These proposed VFSOs can work closely with the respective Member of Parliament (MP) and his/her grassroots leaders to enable the idea to succeed. All seniors and those who are handicapped can be identified through a floor plan and handed in confidence to the appointed VFSO who can also carry out monthly checks to ensure the elderly or the handicapped are not at any risk. This floor plan should be maintained in a database by the MP’s office.
Should a fire break out, the VFSO can guide the firefighters straightaway to the identified elderly or handicapped households who need to be rescued first as they are not so abled-bodied.
Another advantage is that social connection between the management at constituency level that includes support from the MP and the residents can be developed over time, and that will surely well for the government of the day.
Let’s take the cue from what Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu once said: "Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, "We have done this ourselves."
With COVID-19 causing people to lose their jobs and to keep our citizens actively engaged, it would be an ideal time to consider this scheme.
Raymond Anthony Fernando