From Apathy to Passion
More than five years ago, SGT1 (V) Muhammad Zainal Abidin was enlisted for National Service (NS) along with many other Singaporean males around the age of 18 years old.
“When I was first enlisted, I did not see the importance of serving NS and in fact, I was reluctant to participate fully during the training,” said Zainal, 26, as he recalled his experience as a full-time National Serviceman (NSF) with SCDF.
What Zainal did not know then was that he was about to experience a turning point in his life that would change his view about lifesaving.
“One day, my fire station crew and I were instructed to help out during a suicide incident,” said Zainal. “When we arrived at the scene, we were tasked to set up the life pack as quickly as we could. As I did not put in much effort during my NS training, I was neither physically strong nor very knowledgeable to handle the equipment. And there I was, handling a real-life situation where I could have been a better-trained NSF because a life was at stake. Fortunately, it was a collective team effort and my personal shortcomings did not adversely affect the operations.”
Realizing that he could have done more to support his team members, Zainal made a resolution to be very focused on his NS training and to learn as much as possible from the veteran SCDF career officers.
“After the incident, I realized how self-centered and immature I was,” confessed Zainal. “So, from then on, I decided to put in my utmost effort to do my very best in my NS. Ever since, my passion in lifesaving continues to grow and glow.”
After completing his full-time National Service in 2014, Zainal went on to work as a technician, and now pursues a diploma in Aerospace Engineering. Over the years, his passion in lifesaving has never diminished but continues to burn strongly, resulting in him joining the Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit (CDAU) as a fire and rescue specialist at Bishan Fire Station.
“Being a lifesaver with CDAU is a great milestone of my life. It is a noble deed which I believe my child can be proud of in future,” claimed Zainal, who is now a father of a 2-year old son.
Pulau Busing Oil Storage Tank Fire
On 20 March 2018, Zainal and his crew were alerted to an oil storage tank fire at Pulau Busing at about 6pm. From where he stood, kilometres away from one of the islands off the southern coast of Singapore, Zainal could see raging fire and clouds of thick black smoke.
SCDF Firefighters putting out the massive oil storage tank fire at Pulau Busing.
“It was fire on a massive scale when we arrived at the scene in our fire engines but onboard a vessel,” said Zainal. “This reminded me of the time when I was an NSF, some SCDF career officers shared with me their experience fighting an oil tank fire at Pulau Bukom years ago. The Bukom oil refinery fire was so intense that one of our emergency appliances was partially burnt. So, this time, when setting up the ground monitor, I was very mindful to maintain a safe distance from the raging fire and equally important was to constantly check on the wind direction, so as to prevent any equipment from being damaged.”
Altogether, 31 firefighting and support vehicles, 128 SCDF personnel, and CERT members along with the Police Coast Guard, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, Republic of Singapore Navy and the National Environment Agency (NEA) were involved in the highly challenging 6-hour operations at Pulau Busing.
“When the Pulau Busing fire was ultimately extinguished around midnight, my crew and I had to stay behind to monitor the site until 8am the next morning,” recalled Zainal. “As there were about five of us in my section, we took turns to monitor the site every two hours to ensure that the area remained safe. Such precaution is necessary because it is an oil storage tank fire, and re-ignition can happen.”
Despite the lack of sleep, Zainal managed to stay alert during the long hours of standby after the arduous firefighting operations.
“What I have learned so far from my past experiences, as an NSF and a CDAU officer, is that Singapore may be a safe place, but we must never take safety for granted!” exclaimed Zainal. “Every time I put on my firefighting bunker gear and lift the rescue equipment, I am carrying not just a heavy load but with it a heavy sense of responsibility.”
Today, Zainal passionately imparts his knowledge and skills on rescue and firefighting to NSFs at Bishan Fire Station. He always reminds them to take their NS seriously as they are young men entrusted with a very noble and serious mission of protecting and saving the lives and property of others.