The Civil Defence Academy’s (CDA) enduring philosophy “Train as we Operate” is deeply entrenched in SCDF officers. This is especially so for SCDF’s trainers at the Home Team Tactical Centre (HTTC) where there are various purpose-built training simulators, such as ORCA, a simulator specially designed to provide realistic marine firefighting and rescue simulations and scenarios for trainees.
Rescue 995 met up with the trainers for the Marine Specialist Course, Captain (CPT) Foo Changliang, Aloysius and Warrant Officer (WO2) Siti Mariam Binte Othman, who warmly welcomed us at HTTC to learn more about the course and their life as a trainer.
Trainers CPT Aloysius Foo and WO2 Siti Mariam Binte Othman
CPT Aloysius is one of the Course Commanders at the HazMat Marine Firefighting Branch (HMFFB) in CDA, and he also performs the role of a trainer at the HTTC. Prior to his current appointment, CPT Aloysius was a Marine Rota Commander at Brani Marine Fire Station from 2017 to 2020.
WO2 Siti has been a member of the Lifesaving Force for nearly two decades. She was previously a senior instructor in the Hazmat Specialist Branch at CDA. Following CDA’s re-organisation in 2020, WO2 Siti was appointed Senior Course Specialist in HMFFB requiring her to also be cross trained as a Marine Specialist.
Rescue 995: How long is the Marine Specialist Course and what is its objective?
CPT Aloysius: The objective of the 5-week course is to train and equip trainees with the necessary knowledge and skillsets to prepare them for firefighting and rescue operations out at sea. One important aspect which trainees must undergo during training is to develop their strength, endurance, techniques and confidence for fighting a fire on board a vessel where they need to operate in confined spaces under intense heat conditions.
WO2 Siti: Adding to what CPT Aloysius said, trainees will be faced with various challenging scenarios when responding to incidents out at sea. Therefore, trainees going through the course will spend a great amount of time training at the ORCA. ORCA is a training simulator that replicates a ship’s internal structures and compartments. It comprises four decks with 10 different fire compartments for the simulation of various ship firefighting and rescue scenarios.
ORCA is a marine firefighting and rescue training facility that models after an actual sea vessel. It consists of four decks of 10 different compartments and 13 fire points. Next to it is a nine-metre-deep pool to simulate operations involving water scenarios.
Rescue 995: What are the specific skillsets that trainees are taught during the course?
CPT Aloysius: The first would be firefighting onboard a vessel where they would be exposed to different types of fire scenarios such as an engine room fire, a cargo hold fire or a passenger ship fire. To accomplish these tasks, trainees will need to be trained on the safety procedures and vessel entry techniques for the various scenarios.
WO2 Siti: The trainees will also be trained in water and height rescue techniques. For water rescue, the trainees would be exposed to various vessel drills and lifesaving equipment such as the rescue stretcher, as well as managing casualties while treading in water. For height rescue, the trainers from the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Branch who are Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) specialists, will train the trainees. In addition, trainees would be trained to handle chemical, biological and radiological incidents out at sea.
One of the fire simulators inside ORCA that simulates an engine fire scenario
A training simulation involving a cargo hold fire inside ORCA
A simulated oil spill fire on board ORCA
Rescue 995: It does seem like a marine specialist has to be an all-rounder, equipped with firefighting, HazMat, as well as height and water rescue skills. That sounds overwhelming to me!
CPT Aloysius: While the training is indeed rigorous and the trainees have a lot to learn and digest during the Marine Specialist Course, it is not as daunting as it seems. For those going through the course, they are building on their firefighting and rescue knowledge and skills which they have acquired during the Fire Fighting Course (FFC), Section Commander Course (SCC) or Rota Commander Course (RCC) in CDA.
WO2 Siti: Further to the exercise training scenarios, the course also has a week-long theory component where trainees are taught basic knowledge of marine firefighting and rescue. The key objective is for the trainees to understand the different scenarios, challenges, and safety considerations that they will face during operations at sea.
Rescue 995: I understand that all marine specialists would need to go through a yearly Marine Specialist Certification Test. What are the components of the test and what is the criteria for passing it?
WO2 Siti: There are multiple components to the certification test such as the physical training test where the marine specialist must run 250 metres and swim 200 metres under 12 minutes. There is another swimming component where trainees must swim 25 metres while donned in their firefighting bunker gear, followed by another 25 metres of swimming in field dress before removing the attire to tread water for three minutes. In addition, the specialists will be tested on their skills to rescue a casualty in the water by using a water rescue line, life buoy or a rescue tube. There will also be a theory component for the certification test.
CPT Aloysius: Ship intervention techniques is another component where the specialists are assessed for their endurance, hoisting and firefighting skills. For the HazMat component, they have to show their proficiency with, for instance, donning the T-Suit for HazMat incidents, the Chemical Agent Suit (CA-suit), and operating maritime equipment and detectors. The Marine Specialist Certification Test is essential to ensure that SCDF’s marine specialists are current with their knowledge and skills, as this will allow them to respond confidently and proficiently to any emergency at sea.
Trainees carrying out a simulated height rescue exercise inside ORCA
Trainees securing a “casualty” before hoisting operation
Rescue 995: As trainers, what is the most challenging part of your work?
CPT Aloysius: Every individual trainee is different, and we need to assess and adapt our approach as the trainee’s progress and proficiency may vary and some may need a little more practice than others. Training safety is also something that I take seriously. Hence, while the training can be intense, I need to make sure that safety is not compromised and this is done by constantly checking on their safety throughout the training session.
WO2 Siti: Swimming is an essential skill to have as a marine specialist. However, swimming can be a daunting and challenging task for some trainees. Trainees understand the importance of swimming and put in lots of effort to improve, even taking up extra swimming lessons to help them. At the end of the day, all our trainees understand that swimming is an important life-long skill.
Rescue 995: From your perspective, how can the course be further enhanced for better learning outcome?
CPT Aloysius: We have provided near-realistic scenarios to the trainees via our training simulators. So, if there is one aspect we can further enhance, it would be to simulate open water conditions within our training pool by adding tidal waves and underwater currents to add more realism to the water confidence and rescue training. I always tell my trainees that training doesn’t stop after the course. In fact, it is just the beginning as they will need to continually learn and build from their operational experiences including tapping on the invaluable experiences of the senior marine specialists in the marine fire stations.
WO Siti: CPT Aloysius said it all! The tidal waves and underwater currents would definitely be a good enhancement to our current deep pool water rescue training.
Rescue 995: What would be your advice for those who aspire to be a marine specialist, as well as our NSFs going through their National Service as a marine specialist?
CPT Aloysius: My advice is simple — just do it. Always push yourself beyond your comfort zone and you will be amazed to discover how far your inner strength can take you. If you are someone who aspires to be a marine specialist, you need to know that it will take a great amount of effort, determination and perseverance to go through the Marine Specialist Course, but I can assure you that it is definitely a worthwhile journey. Apart from acquiring firefighting and rescue skills, you will learn how to navigate out in the open sea and steer a vessel, leading you to a steersman licence.
WO2 Siti: For the Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) serving with the Marine Division, the opportunities to learn new things and gain experiences while being a marine specialist is aplenty, such as water rescue and navigation skillsets. This will be useful for them after they ORD if they are considering a vocation in the maritime industry.