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Supporting a well-oiled SCDF machine

These Corporate Services Hub National Servicemen perform a crucial, if often overlooked, role in ensuring SCDF operations run like clockwork. Here’s how.

TEXT: MELODY TAN

PHOTOS: THOMAS LIM

For every successful Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) event or exercise, there is a team of dedicated National Servicemen working tirelessly in the background to provide essential support services.

Three Corporate Services Hub (CSH) National Servicemen share with us what their vocations mean to them, and how they support SCDF frontliners.

Meet SGT1 Lioh Yong Hao and LCP Raden Zulfiqkar Bin Zulkifri, who are both with CSH (West), and SGT1 Aloysius Ng who serves with CSH (East). Earlier in March, they supported Exercise Northstar XI in their capacities as a supply and operations assistant (SGT1 Lioh), an info-communications assistant (LCP Raden) and a provost officer (SGT1 Ng).

MAKING THE MISSION POSSIBLE

The massive exercise – which simulated a terrorist attack on Jurong Island – involved over 300 personnel from multiple agencies including the SCDF, Singapore Police Force, and Singapore Armed Forces, as well as other public and private stakeholders like the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, the Ministry of Health, ExxonMobil and Keppel Infrastructure.

“In addition to working closely with the other stakeholders, our SCDF colleagues needed to be on-site for long hours to prepare and execute the exercise,” explains SGT1 Lioh. “Be it exercise equipment, refreshments or transportation needs, we support our frontliners behind the scenes so that they can focus on the mission.”

ENSURING SMOOTH OPERATIONS

LCP Raden (right) guiding his juniors on the operation of a portable sound system, in support of parade rehearsals.

During Exercise Northstar XI, SGT1 Ng and his team were asked to simulate a Tactical HQ scenario where command vehicles were deployed. “We are responsible for safeguarding the command vehicles, which is of critical importance to overall command and control of SCDF’s frontline operations during a major incident,” he describes.

 LCP Raden, whose day-to-day tasks include routine checks, maintenance of info-comms equipment and attending to info-comm and technological issues, notes that such major exercises can require significant technical and communications support.

“During these major events, our team had to ensure that all communications channels between the event organisers and working party ran smoothly,” he said.

Their support is not limited to large exercises. During recruit enlistments, graduation parades and the National Day Parade (NDP), LCP Raden and his team can be found setting up portable mixing consoles, speakers and other audio and visual equipment: “For events such as parades and ceremonies, we have to be very alert to visual and audio cues to ensure that the music is in sync with certain event sequences. This requires quite a fair bit of concentration and situational awareness,” he says.

The 2022 NDP was also a busy occasion for SGT1 Ng: “During the NDP, my team and I were stationed at Kallang Fire Station to prepare the Command Vehicles for a Tactical HQ deployment, in case there was a major emergency. After securing a perimeter for the command post, we remained on high alert to safeguard all personnel and equipment on site.”

Adds LCP Raden: “I always thought that CSH only handles routine logistics and communications services that are far removed from other SCDF operations. However, I soon realised that all departments really need to work closely together to conduct our mission — protecting lives and property — effectively.”

This story is based on interviews originally published in Rescue995.

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Shape Up Travel

5 basic lifesaving skills you need to know while on vacation

From recognising the signs of stroke to performing CPR, a paramedic shares essential lifesaving techniques that can help to save lives.

TEXT: BEATRICE BOWERS

Rest and relaxation are usually our top priorities when we are on holiday, but things can quickly go south due to unforeseen emergencies. Being prepared to manage an emergency with basic lifesaving skills can make all the difference, especially when you are faced with medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest or heatstroke, and help may take some time to arrive.

Ms Vernita Erat is a paramedic from the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit (CDAU).  Currently performing her duties at Alexandra Fire Station, Ms Erat shares five key techniques to manage common emergency scenarios, especially when abroad.

Ms Vernita Erat, a paramedic from Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit (CDAU).

1. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

“I believe CPR is one of the most essential life-saving skills that everyone should know,” says Ms Erat. “CPR can significantly increase the chances of survival from a cardiac arrest.”

When travelling with loved ones who suffer from known cardiac issues, proficiency in CPR is critical. According to the Singapore Heart Foundation (SHF), sudden cardiac arrest causes the heart to unexpectedly stop beating. As blood stops flowing to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and lungs, the lack of oxygen will cause irreversible damage to the brain cells within the first 4 to 6 minutes of a cardiac arrest.

Hands-only CPR, which focuses on chest compressions, helps to get oxygen-rich blood flowing through the body again. When performed immediately and correctly, it can help to restore heart function and prevent permanent brain damage. However, CPR is not a skill that you can pick up just by reading about it online. Attending relevant first aid courses, such as SCDF’s Community Emergency Preparedness Programme (CEPP), will help us learn the proper techniques for CPR.

“Remember to get other bystanders to call the emergency medical services for help,” she shares.

“If you are alone, call for help first, then start CPR.”

2. Basic wound treatment and usage of splints

Photo: Shutterstock

“Travelers on hiking trips should learn how to properly apply dressings, bandages, and splints, which can come in handy during hiking accidents,” shares Ms Erat. A splint is any object which can be used to stabilise a part of the body to minimise movement and prevent further injury. She advises that bandages should not be tied too tightly in consideration of the patient’s comfort. Knowing how to apply a tourniquet to staunch heavy bleeding can potentially save lives.

In cases where limbs are fractured, Ms Erat advises not to move the patients unless their injuries are stabilised or if they are in an unsafe place. “You do not want to further aggravate the injury and cause more pain,” she elaborates.

3. Management of heat injuries

When holidaying at warm destinations, pay closer attention to signs of heat injury such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. An elevated body temperature, headache, dizziness, nausea, clammy skin and excessive thirst are some symptoms of heat injury.

When encountering heat exhaustion or heatstroke, Ms Erat advises to bring the patients to a shaded or air-conditioned area, before cooling them with a shower. “Most importantly, they should drink plenty  of water and isotonic drinks.”

4. Responding to severe allergies

Photo: Shutterstock

Allergies can occur any time, so it is important to be well-prepared. If your travel buddy’s allergic reactions (e.g. swollen eyes, wheezing and hives) are becoming severe, quickly remove the antigen from them, advises Ms Erat. If you are confident in administering an Epi-Pen, proceed cautiously.

5. The Heimlich Maneuver

Photo: Shutterstock

Knowledge of the Heimlich Maneuver can help to save lives during instances of choking. The technique involves abdominal thrusts that help to expel foreign objects from the patient’s airway.  “Done properly, the Heimlich Maneuver can prevent choking patients from going into full-blown cardiac arrest,” explains Ms Erat. Even after the patient has been successfully saved from choking by the Heimlich Maneuver, he or she should nonetheless seek medical attention to ensure that there is no physical damage to the throat and airway.

What to pack in your travel first-aid kit

Credit: Flickr User Medisave UK
  • Small and large plasters
  • Hydrocolloid gel plasters for blisters
  • Antiseptic creams and wound wash
  • Bandages, gauze and medical tape
  • Paracetemol and antithistamines
  • Motion sickness medicine
  • Disposable cold packs

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Featured In The Force

These Operation Lionheart doctors witnessed courage and resilience amid tragedy in Türkiye

Safeguarding the health of SCDF officers and earthquake victims was all in a day’s work for SCDF’s NSF Doctors CPT (DR) Amos Lee and CPT (DR) Nicholas Tan at the disaster site.

TEXT: Cara Yap
PHOTOS: CPT(DR) Nicholas Tan

Approaching midnight on February 8, three hours into a multi-national earthquake search and rescue mission in Türkiye, CPT(DR) Amos Lee’s training as a medical officer (MO) in SCDF’s Emergency Medical Services Department (EMSD) kicked in.

As part of the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) 68-strong Operation Lionheart (OLH) contingent, he had travelled 20 hours with the contingent to Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye, which had been devastated by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake on 6 February.  

SCDF's Operation Lionheart contingent cooperated with members of international rescue teams in Türkiye.

Here, in frigid temperatures of about two degrees Celsius, CPT (DR) Amos prepared to receive a 12-year-old Turkish boy, who had been extricated from the rubble by the elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) officers in the OLH contingent.

The rescued boy was suffering from hypothermia and psychological shock after being trapped for several days, so Dr Lee and the other medical professionals had to act swiftly. “Thankfully, he didn’t sustain any life-threatening injuries. After taking his vitals, we stabilised him, administered fluids intravenously and kept him warm with a thermal blanket, before the local paramedics brought him to the hospital,” he recalls.

The successful rescue was a bright spot in an otherwise sobering experience for the 27-year-old, who had witnessed courage, resilience and sorrow during the deployment. “As Medical Officers, we were taught to be resilient to hardship during our SAF Basic Military Training. Nevertheless, it was heartrending to see the locals cry and mourn amid the death and destruction,” shares Dr Lee.

As a healthcare professional, Dr Lee anticipated the disaster’s emotional toll.  “We do respect the grieving process of the victims.  However, as part of the OLH contingent, we must have sufficient coping mechanisms, so that we can carry out our duties professionally,” he explains. Such stoicism is essential, as Dr Lee and other medical officers bore the responsibility of ensuring the health of all SCDF officers and search canines throughout the mission. Given their training in Advanced Trauma Life Support, they possess the skills to manage traumatic injuries and effectively support the OLH contingent.

Paying attention to details

CPT (DR) Amos Lee and CPT (DR) Nicholas Tan shared a tent during the mission.

While the general public read play-by-play accounts of successful rescues conducted by the OLH contingent, not many are aware of the roles played by supporting team members such as Dr Lee.

Yet, these  roles are essential to the smooth operations of the OLH contingent, even if they are not directly involved in rescue work. CPT(DR) Nicholas Tan, from the Home Team Medical Services Division (HTMSD), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), who shared a tent with Dr Lee throughout the deployment, can certainly attest to that. The 27-year-old served mainly as an onsite GP for OLH contingent members and members of other international rescue teams that were based in the same camp.

“Minor ailments such as coughs, colds and runny noses may appear to be trivial, but how will our teammates concentrate on search and rescue, if they are not feeling well?” muses Dr Tan.

Throughout the mission, Dr Tan routinely treated ailments and minor injuries, not just for the contingent members, but also the search canines from SCDF’s Search Platoon. When one of the search canines sustained a cut on its paw during a search, Dr Tan was able to neatly clean and bandage the wound, thanks to a three-day course in basic veterinary care he underwent prior to the mission.

Search and rescue troops braved freezing temperatures in Kahramanmaraş.

The swift deployment of the OLH contingent within hours of the earthquake, has reinforced Dr Tan’s belief in the importance of watertight and agile logistics. “You must prioritise what to bring on overseas missions because you’re limited by space and time constraints,” shares the full-time NSF doctor, whose job scope includes drafting policies to improve the welfare of servicemen under the Ministry of Home Affairs. “We focused on variety instead of depth, packing medication and equipment to cover many types of emergencies – this involved a lot of pre-planning. Nothing was left to chance.”

Sorting through medical supplies at the disaster site.
Sorting through medical supplies at the disaster site.

Like Dr Lee, this was Dr Tan’s first time working in a disaster site, and he recalls being awakened by aftershocks on several occasions while resting in their tent. “As the base of operations was sited in an open area, we knew that the dangers from a tent collapse was minimal. However, the aftershocks did make us feel uneasy at times,” recounts Dr Tan.

Despite the potential risks, both doctors did not hesitate when they received the deployment notice. “As a doctor, you have to step up when duty calls. This sense of responsibility is no different from that of other healthcare workers who worked hard to take care of COVID-19 patients, despite the potential risk of being infected by the virus,” reflects Dr Tan, who recounted his stint at Singapore General Hospital during the pandemic, prior to enlisting in National Service.

Courage and camaraderie

Both Dr Lee and Dr Tan, who underwent BMT and the Medical Officer Conversion Course (MOCC) before joining SCDF, were equipped with both the physical and mental capacity to work under challenging circumstances. “We gained leadership skills during our SCDF induction course. We also learnt how to perform field amputations — on top of the veterinary course — and were engaged in regular exercises to familiarise ourselves with how OLH functions,” explains Dr Lee, who also volunteers on overseas humanitarian missions with his church. He joined the medical profession as it is “a privilege to be present for those who are in need.” Although he has yet to decide on his medical specialisation after NS, he has plans for an upcoming humanitarian trip in Cambodia. 

The OLH deployment struck a chord with Dr Lee, especially for the hospitality he received from the locals. “The Turkish people were really welcoming. Although they were having a difficult time in the aftermath of the earthquake, they kindly offered us drinks and warm meals,” shares Dr Lee. Equally encouraging, was the camaraderie shared among members of the various international contingents, which transcended language and cultural differences.

“When I was queuing for food in front of a Turkish rescuer, I mentioned a few big names in Turkish football, as I knew that the sport is popular in Turkey. We started chatting and he showed me football clips on his phone. It shows that through patience and good will, we can find much common ground with others ,” recounts Dr Tan, who will continue his internal medicine residency with SingHealth after NS.

OLH team members with their Turkish counterparts.
OLH team members with their Turkish counterparts.

Dr Lee echoes this sentiment, saying that he maintains friendships with the Turkish translators assigned to his team. Despite the tragedy he witnessed he remains buoyed by the resilience displayed by the locals, as well as the collective strength of the international rescuers.

“My biggest takeaway through this experience was that regardless of nationality, race or religion, medical professionals have a duty to render help to those who need it,” he concludes.

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