The deep-seated culture of ragging and hazing rituals within the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has been pushed to the forefront of national attention since the death of full-time national serviceman (NSF) Corporal Kok Yuen Chin on May 13.
After the body of the 22-year-old was recovered from the pump well of Tuas View Fire Station, arrests were made, and the men allegedly involved in CPL Kok’s death have since been charged. In a statement released today, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) detailed the findings and recommendations of the Board of Inquiry convened to investigate the tragic incident.
Based on the reviewed evidence and statements obtained from over 50 people, this was what happened on CPL Kok’s last day.
- CPL Kok was part of Tuas View Fire Station’s Rota 3 — Rota meaning rotation. Each Rota (fire stations usually have three of them) consists of about 30 or so personnel handling 24 hours of duty before the next rotation of personnel takes over. CPL Kok’s Rota had 23 personnel, and May 13 was supposed to be his last day on the job before the end of his term as an NSF.
- 8:40pm – 9:04pm. That night, Rota 3 personnel held a celebration for CPL Kok at the fire station’s watch room (a command center of sorts with computers and radio equipment to receive calls from HQ and deploy resources) and gave him a cake and a plaque.
- 9:04pm – 9:07pm. The hazing ritual begins. CPL Kok was carried by some members of his Rota to the pump well. While sitting on the edge of the well, one of them pushed him into it.
- 9:07pm – 9:43pm. CPL Kok failed to re-surface in the water. Eight seconds since he was pushed into the 12m-deep well, a personnel jumped into the water and tried to rescue him. Others jumped in but failed to find CPL Kok. His rota-mates started using a fire engine suction pump to extract the water out from the well, while some donned breathing apparatus to dive deeper.
- One serviceman managed to find CPL Kok, who was unconscious. Using ropes, they pulled him out of the pump well. The whole ordeal lasted 36 minutes.
- 9:43pm – 11:02pm. Station paramedics tried and failed to resuscitate CPL Kok after he was extracted. He was quickly conveyed to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, arriving there at 10:13pm.
- He was subsequently pronounced dead at 11:02pm. An autopsy confirmed that he died by drowning.
The conclusion that the Board found out is that a celebratory activity — paid for by CPL Kok’s rota-mates — went tragically wrong. Recommendations were given by the Board, including a major course of action: decommissioning all pump wells at every fire station.
“During its discussions with SCDF, the Board found that pump well testing and training can be centralized at the Civil Defence Academy, without compromising SCDF’s operational effectiveness,” MHA stated.
“It is therefore not necessary for each fire station to have its own pump well. The Board, therefore, recommended that the fire station pump wells be decommissioned, to remove the risk of unauthorized access.”
Pump wells — a deep reservoir of water used for training and testing out fire engine pumps — have long been the center of ragging activities within SCDF. One of the more popular activities consists of the ORD-ing firefighter getting thrown in the fire station’s pump well, something that’s known as “Kolam”, the Malay word for “pool”.
The Board also noted that CPL Kok’s death occurred despite clear anti-ragging policies and frameworks enacted by the SCDF. They recommended the strengthening of anti-ragging ethos within SCDF with measures such as more hands-on instructional methods and enhanced whistle-blowing policies.
Home affairs minister K Shanmugam has accepted the recommendations in full and assured that those who are criminally culpable will answer for their actions in court.
“We will do whatever we can to ensure that no more officers come to harm because of such activities,” he stated. “CPL Kok’s death was a most tragic loss, both for his family and SCDF.”