Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery

January 29, 2022

Like all museums, the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery (CDHG) offer visitors a glimpse into the past. However, a visit to the CDHG is not all about an eye-opening experience of the Civil Defence development in Singapore from the late 1800s. It is also a journey on the SCDF today and even a peep into the near future.  


Officially opened on 22 November 2001, the CDHG is aptly sited within the compound of  Central Fire Station, Singapore’s oldest existing fire station with its rich history and vintage architectural splendour. The exhibition at CDHG presents an evolution of the Fire Service and Civil Defence in Singapore and showcases SCDF’s capabilities in handling a wide range of emergencies such as from high-rise fires, collapsed buildings with trapped casualties to leakage of hazardous materials.


To heighten visitors’ experience, in 2015, a new centre was established on the second floor of CDHG and named the Emergency Preparedness Centre (EPC). The centre has a series of highly interactive modules based on simulation technology where visitors could, for example,  operate a virtual reality fire extinguisher, be immersed in world of virtual calamities such as earthquake and typhoon and even go through a smoky maze-like chamber that depicts evacuating from a smoke-filled burning environment.


Since its opening in 2001, the gallery has hosted more than 800,000 local and international visitors! In December last year, the CDHG commemorated its twentieth anniversary.


Rescue 995 took an exclusive tour of the gallery with Mr Subandi Bin Somo, the resourceful Manager of CDHG.


Mr Subani B SomoMr Subandi Bin Somo, Manager of the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery


As we entered the gallery, we were greeted by a rich array of relics and artefacts from the past. The scent of the good old days never ceases to linger as we toured this segment of the gallery.


At the main entrance of the galleryAt the main entrance of the gallery


Entrance filled with artefacts from the pastSome of the artefacts were tokens of goodwill from our firefighting counterparts all over the world


Monitors that were used to fight fires in Singapore in the pastMonitors that were used to fight fires in Singapore in the past


‘The Broadrick’, a magnificent, archaic looking steam-powered fire engine‘The Broadrick’, a magnificent, archaic looking steam-powered fire engine


A display of how firefighters in the early days utilised wooden ladderA display of how firefighters in the early days utilised wooden ladders to fight fires involving pre-war shophouses


Showreel depicting the daily routine in a fire station in the old daysShowreel depicting the daily routine in a fire station in the old days


A Walk Down Memory Lane: The Beginning


In 1999, the Heritage Gallery Committee (HGC) was set up to coordinate and supervise the establishment of the CDHG. Its main objective was to preserve and exhibit historical artefacts and educate the public on fire safety, emergency preparedness and the importance of civil defence in the context of nation building. Five committee members were sent to the Netherlands and the United Kingdom for a study trip to engage museum consultants for the project. After months of preparation and hard work, the gallery was fully established in late 2001.


“I hear personal memories… stories that never went down on recorded history. It was a great privilege,” remarked Ms Thum Sok Fung, former Vice-chairman of the HGC. To her, the best moments during the project was when veteran officers walked into the gallery during the setup phase and started to passionately relate about the past.


An audio-visual corner of the Bukit Ho Swee Fire in May 1961 An audio-visual corner of the Bukit Ho Swee Fire in May 1961 which ravaged many wooden village houses, a powerful reminder of how challenging firefighting was during those perilous times


Receiving the Museum Roundtable Award in 2011


In October 2011, the CDHG emerged as the winner of the Best Exhibition Award category at the Inaugural Museum Roundtable (MR) Award ceremony. This award by the National Heritage Board served to recognise excellence in the museum sector and to raise the profile of MR members.




"There are three things which we did – and are still doing today – that earned us the award,” said Mr Subandi. “Firstly, take a look around! You can see how well we preserve and present every single artefact, and each tells a rich story of the past. The lightings and vintage ambience make the entire gallery so beautiful and pleasant.”


The old fire engine of the Singapore Fire Brigade


This area has attracted many local and international visitors who would take photographs of themselves with these SCDF’s first responder figures


Mr Subandi continued, “Secondly, we make the place come alive. Visitors need to experience what it’s like being in the past and present. There are several interactive stations in the gallery which you can have a hands-on experience with, such as the Fire Fight Zone. It’s like going to the arcade and playing video games. Children simply love them!”


A Popular Station for StudentsThis is a popular station among students who would take photographs holding the fire hoses and dressing up as firefighters


The Fire Fight Zone engages visitors in a game of firefightingThe Fire Fight Zone engages visitors in a game of firefighting


“Thirdly, we excel in educating the public. The virtual reality exhibits in the EPC, for instance, allow visitors to have a realistic, immersive experience in responding to different emergency scenarios,” Mr Subandi added.


Beyond 2020


In 2021, the CDHG embarked on yet another upgrading work at the Rescue Area and EPC. The new SCDF’s marine capabilities can now be found at the Rescue Area with a slew of vessels and equipment to respond to various maritime emergencies. The other part of the Rescue Area consisted of interactive stations on rescue dogs, height rescue devices, trapped casualty’s detection tool and other equipment used by the elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART). The EPC, on the other hand, now has a concluding segment to test visitors’ understanding on the basic triangle of life skills which they have acquired during their EPC visit.


SCDF Marine Capabilities on DisplayExhibits displaying SCDF’s marine capabilities at the Rescue Area of the gallery


Hazmat StationThis station provides visitors a near-realistic experience on how it feels like being inside an SCDF’s Hazardous Material (HazMat) suit


The exhibit on rescue dogs and rescue equipment used by the elite DART officers


From this year onwards, CDHG will be adding more interactive exhibits such as the high-tech screen game area, allowing visitors to experience defensive firefighting operation involving a high-rise building fire. There will also be a new station utilising the hologram technology to feature SCDF’s capability in responding to a major oil tank fire.


The current segment for First Aid and the In-Place Protection (IPP) procedure at the EPC will be enhanced to include interactive displays on the Save-a-Life programme and the IPP procedure. It will also be designed to reinforce the CPR skills that participants will practise by means of virtual reality.



For the past two decades, CDHG had played its part in generating awareness on the rich past and tradition of The Life Saving Force as well as in imparting life-saving knowledge and skills to the populace. It will continue to play its part for generations to come in promoting community emergency preparedness and in fostering community first response towards building A Nation of Lifesavers.


Happy 20th Anniversary, CDHG!