Down But Not Out

February 12, 2022

SCDF emergency responders are often seen as physically strong and always ready to jump into the thick of action to save lives and properties. But did you know that there are a few among them who had to overcome a period of setback or hardship to become such resilient heroes? Lieutenant (LTA) Chennam Uday Samir, a Rota/shift Commander from Punggol Fire Station, is one of them.


Rescue 995 engaged LTA Samir in an exclusive interview as he talked about an unexpected twist during his Rota Commander Course (RCC) and how he overcame all odds to eventually become a Rota Commander.


LTA Chennam Uday SamirLTA Chennam Uday Samir


Rescue 995: LTA Samir, please share with us how you began your career with SCDF.


LTA Samir: After graduating from the National University of Singapore, I joined a team building company. We were setting up an event for West Coast Marine Fire Station and that was when I had a conversation with an SCDF officer who encouraged me to sign on with the SCDF. Frankly, I was unsuccessful in my first interview but I persevered and tried again six months later. I made it in my second attempt! I went through the training and was posted as a Rota Commander to Woodlands Fire Station in January 2020 and subsequently to Punggol Fire Station in January 2021.


Rescue 995: We learned that you were originally from the 19th RCC however you had to join the subsequent batch of trainee cadets to complete your training at the Civil Defence Academy (CDA). How did that happen?


LTA Samir: I had initially joined the 19th RCC in December 2018. Part of the course involved an intensive Outward Bound School training in Brunei for about nine days before returning to CDA to continue with our training on firefighting. In Brunei, my fellow cadets and I went for a four-day jungle expedition for our field craft training to learn basic survival skills. For this activity, we had to clear the checkpoints at a given time. On the second day of the expedition, it was my turn to lead my team to clear a checkpoint that was at the top of a hill. We reached the hilltop way ahead of time and were so eager to descend swiftly to return to our campsite when I accidentally twisted my left ankle.


From where we were, it would be another day before we could made it back to our campsite, where I would be evacuated by boat to the nearest hospital for medical treatment. As the terrain was harsh, the journey back to camp was an excruciatingly painful one for me who was limping with an injured ankle. By the time I made it out of the jungle, the swelling at my ankle was substantially enlarged. I found out later through an X-ray that I had indeed fractured my ankle and had to go for a surgery at Ng Teng Fong Hospital upon my return to Singapore.


LTA Samir after he injured his left ankle while descending the hillLTA Samir injured his left ankle while descending the hill


Rescue 995: What were the challenges you faced during your recovery and how did you overcome them?


LTA Samir: After my surgery in March 2019, I had to recuperate at home for about two months. Given the state I was in, I was uncertain if I could continue with my training or even my service in SCDF. It was also demoralising for me especially when my course mates had all graduated from the 19th RCC without me. Furthermore, I was medically downgraded and had to wait for my medical review several months later that year before I would know if I was fit enough to join the 21st RCC. The medical officer was not confident of my recovery in time to join an earlier 20th RCC.


During my recovery phase, I went for countless physiotherapy sessions and diligently did all the exercises as recommended by the physiotherapist. Day after day, I pushed myself both physically and mentally to do my utmost but without over straining myself and I soon recovered faster than I had expected. By July 2019, my physiotherapist was impressed that I was able to fully regain my physical strength, including the full range of motion of my lower limbs. I was thus assessed to be fit to join the earlier 20th RCC in August that year. Needless to say, I was on cloud nine!


LTA Samir (2nd from left) with his course mates from the 20th RCCLTA Samir (2nd from left) with his course mates from the 20th RCC


Rescue 995: From what you had shared, I must say that you were very determined to re-join the RCC. What lessons have you gained from this experience and did it change your personality, if at all?


LTA Samir: I learned two things from this experience — adaptability and interpersonal skill. These attributes are important if you want to be an effective leader. By the time I joined the 20th RCC in August 2019, I had to continue from where I had previously stopped in my training. I became more cautious about my surroundings as I had to focus on completing my training without sustaining any more injury.


I also had to assimilate to a different culture that was already forged among my new course mates. It was challenging at first as my course mates were not familiar with me and at times, I felt as though I was an outsider. As I reflected upon this then, I told myself that such a situation could still occur if I were to be posted to a new unit, like a new fire station as a Rota Commander. I talked to myself: How would I be able to lead my men effectively if I was unable to blend into a new environment? Frankly, I snapped out of it with a positive thinking to view such a situation as a golden opportunity for me to sharpen my adaptability and interpersonal skill, to reach out and form lasting bonds with others.


I eventually graduated from the 20th RCC with many friends, became a Rota Commander, and had the opportunity to respond to a few major fires such as industrial fire incidents at Sungei Kadut and Mandai. And I am looking forward to continuing to serve in The Life Saving Force.


In life, do not be easily daunted by setbacks or hardship. No matter what challenges lie ahead, learn to think positively and stay focused by putting in time and effort to achieve your goals. Remember, all things will turn out well if you persevere and put your heart and soul into it.