Childhood memories are powerful recollections that shaped our perception of life including those who are dear to us.
When SCDF was lauded for the rescue of fourteen cats from a fire at Fajar Road three months ago, this news kindled fond childhood memories from Bernice Huang, an estate and succession planner, and Beverlyn Huang, a financial consultant, whose parents once served in the SCDF as frontline responders.
Rescue 995 engaged Bernice and Beverlyn, along with their parents, Mdm Beatrice Ho, a retired Ambulance Officer (AO) and Mr Wong Hoi Kam, a retired ambulance and fire engine driver, in an exclusive interview as they share their most memorable times of their life in the SCDF.
[Seated from left to right] Beverlyn Huang, Bernice Huang, Mr Wong Hoi Kam and Mdm Beatrice Ho.
The Huang Sisters
Rescue 995: Share with us some fond memories you had of the fire stations as you were growing up in the late 1980s?
Beverlyn: We would usually hang around the AO Quarters because our parents would bring us there and fetch us home. At the AO Quarters, we would be talking to the aunties (AOs) who were very nice to us. They would even share their food with us and when we were tired, they would let us rest on their beds. And I remembered there used to be some dwellings behind the AO Quarters as well.
Bernice: Alexandra Fire Station was a very nostalgic and memorable place because the AO Quarter was very special. It was similar to the landed homes with its own rooms, kitchen and living room. Whenever we were tired, we took naps in one of the rooms. I remembered my mom repeatedly reminding us not to play with the phones. She said, “These are really for emergency and you girls are not supposed to touch them”. We listened. And we had a lot of fun because every time we entered the fire station, we would say ‘hi’ to the uncles and aunties.
For Bukit Timah Fire Station, we had a shorter time spent over there because the AO Quarter was upstairs and had smaller apartment space. There was not much room for us to play so we simply waited for our mom to finish work. I remembered when we were young, after my mom returned from an accident, she would always fill up the Ambulance Record Forms on the incident she attended to. That was my earliest memory of case documentation.
Bernice Huang (left) and Beverlyn Huang (right) on a Light Water Tender land rover at Alexandra Fire Station
Beverlyn Huang (left) and Bernice Huang (right) inside an ambulance at Alexandra Fire Station
Rescue 995: What about the memories you had of Central Fire Station?
Bernice: We were in Central Fire Station way back in our younger days. That was the first fire station we went to. Its magnificent architecture brings back a lot of memories for us. I remembered how the fireman uncles would always slide down the metal pole whenever there was an emergency call. When that happened, my sister and I would just rush downstairs to look at the uncles (firemen) slide down the metal pole and went, “Wow! That’s so cool!” [laughs]
We can see that there were many close friendships forged between our parents and their colleagues. It (fire station) feels like a kampong (‘village’ in English), and a second home to us. We seldom see other children like us around the premises. I guess we were the only ones who frequent the fire stations a lot!
[Video] Bernice & Beverlyn Huang - Part 1
Rescue 995: Have your parents ever shared any stories of major incidents with you while growing up?
Bernice: I remembered there was a huge fire that broke out and my dad had to go down to the scene. When we learned that there were chemicals involved, that worried us. I remembered my mom said that when she was at work, she must not get emotional and had to stay clear-headed so that she could render the correct assistance to the victims. I found her very strong but on one particular day, she came home and shared a story with us. It was a fatal accident… and my mom cried.
Out of curiosity, I asked her why she cried. She said she could feel the pain for the family members and that really touched me. That was when I realised it was not easy to remain focused on the job as an AO and not get emotional. After hearing all these stories from our parents, we came to understand that life is fragile and that we should cherish our life and those close to us.
Rescue 995: What other fond memories would you like to share with us?
Beverlyn: After graduation, I became an Air Stewardess, and we were trained in lifesaving skills. Coincidently, I bumped into my mom’s ex-colleague who was a trainer then and she taught me how to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). During my flights, whenever there was a case of emergency, I tend to put my needs aside and help the passengers when they fainted or fell ill. My parents do have a lot of influence on me.
Bernice: From the bottom of our hearts, my sister and I are very proud of our parents. They have given us a lot of memorable experiences from the things they did at work and the stories they shared with us. We used to stay in a HDB flat with the expressway near us. Whenever accidents occurred on the expressway, my sister and I would be inquisitive to check them out. If we saw our parents onsite attending to the road incidents, we would feel proud of their efforts to save lives. And I thank SCDF for allowing them to join this profession because it means a lot to us. Even till today, these memories continue within our family.
[Video] Bernice & Beverlyn Huang - Part 2
Madam Beatrice Ho
Rescue 995: Why did you become an AO?
Mdm Ho: I had no idea what an AO does. My department had informed me that there is an opportunity for a nurse like myself to be a relief AO after attending a course. I went and subsequently completed the course. Shortly after the course, I was recommended to be seconded to SCDF. That was when I permanently joined SCDF.
I was a young junior nurse then with just a Midwifery certificate. A Midwifery certificate is a requirement to join the SCDF as we were required to perform emergency delivery in many cases. It was with this qualification that I got the job and I was happy working in SCDF.
Mdm Beatrice Ho with the Volkswagen Transporter ambulance in the engine bay at Alexandra Fire Station
Rescue 995: How have things changed for you since you first started out in SCDF?
Mdm Ho: There were a lot of improvements. The ambulances of the past were much smaller. When it comes to work, it was very challenging, especially when there was an emergency case and there was no room to move about in the ambulance. The stretcher was also made of very heavy metal; the kind which we had to assemble on the spot. Nowadays, it is so much better. Our ambulances are so spacious and well-equipped. There were a lot of memories and sometimes, I still have nightmares over some of those bad incidents.
When I was posted to Bukit Timah Fire Station, I encountered many traumatic experiences. There was an incident at Sungei Kadut. A timber, the size of two inches in diameter had pierced through the lower abdomen of a worker. It was very difficult for us to load him into the ambulance because it was not wide enough. My colleagues had to use an electric saw to cut away both sides of the timber to make room for the worker to be loaded into the ambulance. He was cold and perspiring profusely, but I was glad that he was lucky to survive.
Mdm Beatrice Ho in front of the Magirus Turn-table Ladder (30 metre) at Alexandra Fire Station
Rescue 995: How was it like to transport patients in these ambulances?
Mdm Ho: At that time, we thought of nothing except to just save the victims at the location and make them feel as comfortable as possible in the ambulance. Some of the victims’ relatives were very appreciative and they thanked us. I felt happy because we can render help and comfort to the victims, as well as to relief their stress as much as possible.
Rescue 995: What were some memorable incidents that had a significant impact on you?
Mdm Ho: There was this lady whose husband I managed to revive twice when he had an asthma attack. She was so appreciative of what I did for her husband that she even asked me to teach her how to perform CPR. I was very touched by her gratitude and advised her to register for a course at either St John’s or the Red Cross to learn lifesaving skills.
Rescue 995: What did you miss about the old fire station?
Mdm Ho: I miss all the times we had at the stations and also my colleagues and assistants. They were very thoughtful towards me. When I was about seven months pregnant, I recalled climbing up a platform to perform CPR. That was when one of my colleagues repeatedly told me to rest while she took over the task. It was natural for me to forget about myself because all I wanted to do was to save a life.
[Video] Mdm Beatrice Ho
Mr Wong Hoi Kam
Rescue 995: How did you begin your career in SCDF?
Mr Wong: It so happened that not long after I left national service, I saw a job opening in a newspaper hiring firemen. I thought this job was interesting and challenging. I decided to give it a try and I was accepted. I had served SCDF for 25 years and am retired since 2002.
Rescue 995: How was your experience as a driver for fire appliances and ambulance?
Mr Wong: As a driver, we had to know all the routes by heart. If we were unfamiliar with the routes, it could affect the patient’s chance of survival. The patient’s survival rate greatly depended on the speed we convey them to hospital. When we drove, we had to be very careful even though we were driving fast. We had to be on high alert of our surroundings when we were on the road.
As drivers, we drove and operated both the fire appliances as well as the ambulances. What we learnt in SCDF is something we did not get to learn anywhere else. There were many things we got to experience being in this job. For example, we got to operate the fire engine, the pump ladder and so on. Ambulances were easier to operate in my opinion. Fire engines were more challenging because there were many functions that we had to learn to work with.
Mr Wong with the Mazda Guard ambulance at Central Fire Station
Rescue 995: What do you remember about the appliances you operated?
Mr Wong: For ambulance, I first started operating the Volkswagen Transporter. For fire engines, they were not automatic during my time. Everything was operated manually. The rear-view mirror was rather small in many of those vehicles then. I found it amusing that a large vehicle had such small rear-view mirror. Doing a three-point turn in those vehicles was very tedious! It was very difficult to do a three-point turn without power-steering. I used to perspire a lot when doing three-point turns. [laughs]
Rescue 995: What uniform did you wear during that time?
Mr Wong: It was the khaki uniform before we changed to the grey uniform, and it was followed by the current blue uniform.
Rescue 995: Do you hope for your children or grandchildren to follow your footsteps by becoming a lifesaver?
Mr Wong: For me, it is up to them to pursue what they are passionate in. I really do encourage the younger generation to join as firefighters if they have the passion for it. It can be very rewarding. It is also a noble vocation where you get to save many lives. If you can become a lifesaver, why hesitate? Furthermore, you get to contribute greatly to the nation. This is a great vocation in my opinion, and I am proud that I was once part of it.
[Video] Mr Wong Hoi Kam