Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has vowed to the public to uncover the circumstances of a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) national serviceman’s death on Sunday.
Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, 22, died following a common, long-held (but prohibited) tradition of dunking outgoing firefighters in fire station water wells to commemorate the end of a national service term. He failed to resurface from the pump well — 12 meters deep — and attempts to resuscitate him failed as well. He was declared dead in hospital.
Word on the ground noted that he died on his penultimate day on duty. Kok had been due to ORD tomorrow.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, the minister declined to reveal further details of the incident but confirmed that the man had drowned. “This boy died last night during a celebration gone wrong,” he stated, adding that the conduct of the people involved in the case was a “clear violation” of SCDF’s rules.
Two SCDF regulars have been arrested in relation to the case, and Shanmugam believes that they will be charged in court.
SCDF deputy commissioner Chong Hoi Hung reaffirmed that the force does not condone the “unauthorized activities” and will not hesitate to take the officers to task if they were found guilty.
The Minister has also ordered SCDF to run an audit to find any further evidence of similar cases and take action against it.
Clearly, the “unauthorized activities” refer to the frat-like ragging and hazing rituals carried out amongst SCDF personnel, especially so among the lower ranks of men. Though the activities are officially banned by SCDF, it’s an open secret that ragging is still being conducted — though the culture of acceptance varies between different units and rotas.
One common ritual consists of the ORD-ing firefighter getting thrown in the fire station’s pump well — a deep reservoir of water used for training and testing out the pumps of fire engines. Firefighters have a name for this activity: “Kolam”, the Malay word for “pool”.
In a report by The New Paper, Kok had told his siblings in Malacca that he was afraid of being thrown into the pump well, as he was not able to swim. His squad mates had told him earlier on that he would be thrown into the well as part of his ORD celebrations.
“Everyone in the camp knew that he was afraid of water, and could not swim,” Kok’s aunt told TNP.
The statement put out by SCDF notes that CPL Kok had been celebrating his impending ORD with his squadmates, but it’s not made clear if he had been a willing participant.
What is clear though is that this was a tragically preventable death as a result of a foolish adherence to time-worn traditions of excessive machismo.
The full details surrounding the man’s death will be revealed to the public following investigations by an independent Board of Inquiry.