Senior Warrant Officer (SWO1) Noor Asrik Bin Masahlan, Senior Training Specialist of Tuas Fire Station, and Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Foo Yiing Kai, Commander of Punggol Fire Station have assumed the role of an SCDF paracounsellor for more than a decade
The prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world in every aspect of life. Apart from physical health concerns, the pandemic has also greatly affected the mental health of the general population. This is especially true for our heroes at the frontline who have to deal with the higher risk of exposure to the virus, and face tremendous amount of pressure and mental stress from the increased workload due to the COVID-19 virus and its variants.
In commemoration of the World Mental Health Day held annually on 10 October, Rescue 995 met up with two SCDF Paracounsellors to find out more on what inspired them to take up this meaningful role of rendering psychological care and emotional support to their fellow frontliners.
Brief Origin of the SCDF Paracounsellor Scheme
The SCDF Paracounsellor Scheme was established in January 1999 to provide psychological assistance to all SCDF career officers and Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs). The earlier batches of SCDF paracounsellors were nominated by virtue of their appointments and they were trained at the Singapore Armed Forces Counselling Centre. Besides the frontline units, the paracounsellors also performed counselling duties at the Civil Defence Academy. The objective was to ensure the mental wellbeing of trainees including newly enlisted recruits who may have difficulties adjusting to the NS life.
In 2003, the application for SCDF Paracounsellor was opened up to all interested career officers. Applicants will need to undergo an interview and selection process by the Emergency Behavioural Sciences & Care (EBSC) unit (formerly known as the SCDF CARE Team) before going through the Paracounsellor Course.
Meet the Paracounsellors
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Foo Yiing Kai has been a member of The Lifesaving Force for close to two decades. As the Commander of Punggol Fire Station, besides ensuring the smooth running of operations in the station, LTC Foo also looks after the wellbeing of personnel under his charge. In 2003, shortly after he joined SCDF, LTC Foo applied for the role of a paracounsellor.
LTC Foo Yiing Kai
Senior Warrant Officer (SWO1) Noor Asrik Bin Masahlan is a Senior Training Specialist at Tuas Fire Station. With 22 years of experience in SCDF, SWO1 Noor Asrik manages the training and upkeeps the standard of frontline responders and Operational Ready National Servicemen in his station. He is also appointed as one of the Incident Safety Officers who assist to oversee the safety aspects of major operations. SWO1 Noor Asrik became a paracounsellor since 2007 and he is one of the Paracounsellor Team Leaders in 4th SCDF Division.
SWO1 Noor Asrik Bin Masahlan
Rescue 995: What made you decide to be an SCDF paracounsellor?
LTC Foo: When I was a section commander in Tuas Fire Station back in 2003, I responded to a rescue incident where I saw a casualty succumbing to his injury right before my eyes. As a young SCDF officer then, I was overwhelmed with sadness and guilt for not being able to save the person in time. Noticing a change in my behaviour, my former supervisor offered me a listening ear and gave me guidance on how to manage my emotions when faced with life and death situations in the course of our duty. Although he was not a trained paracounsellor, his presence and genuine concern made me realise that anyone can make a difference by watching out for one another and extending a helping hand to those in need. A year later, I applied for the role of a paracounsellor during a recruitment drive organised by the EBSC unit and embarked on the fulfilling journey of being a paracounsellor in the SCDF.
SWO1 Noor Asrik: As a HazMat DRC at Tuas Fire Station back in 2006, I felt there was a need for me to upgrade myself and acquire additional skill sets as a supervisor to ensure the mental wellbeing of my junior officers including NSFs. I applied for a the role of a paracounsellor after one of my colleagues recommended it to me and I have never looked back since.
Rescue 995: What are your roles as paracounsellors in SCDF?
LTC Foo: We respond to the psychological needs of officers through counselling. We also look after the mental and emotional wellbeing of officers by helping them cope with stress and challenges at work. This helps to strengthen our organisation’s mental resilience and thereby enhancing our operational effectiveness.
SWO1 Noor Asrik: In addition to what LTC Foo mentioned, as a paracounsellor team leader, I oversee the overall mental wellbeing of our personnel in the fire stations as well as the division HQ. I also work closely with the EBSC unit to roster myself and my fellow paracounsellors in the division to attend to those personnel who require counselling support and intervention, regardless if the officer is a regular, NSF or a civilian officer.
LTC Foo providing counselling to an SCDF personnel
Rescue 995: How does the training that you received from being a paracounsellor helped you in your job in SCDF?
LTC Foo: The counselling training provided me with the know-how to be a good paracounsellor such as listening with patience and to see things from another person’s point of view. These knowledge and skills complemented my core duty well as a member of the Life Saving Force.
SWO1 Noor Asrik: Throughout the years, I have attended various courses and workshops organised by the EBSC unit to continue to hone my competencies as a paracounsellor. These courses cover topics such as suicide intervention, critical incident stress debriefing and management, and cognitive behaviour therapy. While performing our core duty of protecting and saving lives and property at the frontline, I am equipped with the knowledge and skill sets to better assist my colleagues and officers in need and provide them with the right guidance including advising them to seek assistance from medical professionals, where necessary.
Rescue 995: Can you share important learning points you have gained in your experience as a paracounsellor?
LTC Foo: Over the years, I have learnt the importance of empathy through helping others. Though the members of public may see us as heroes, frontliners are also humans with emotions and vulnerabilities too. Due to the nature of our work in responding to life-threatening emergencies, it may take a psychological toll on some of our officers. We need to always bear in mind that every one of us have times when we may need a helping hand from others.
SWO1 Noor Asrik: As both a frontliner and a paracounsellor, I have learnt the importance of staying calm and developing the mindset to always expect the unexpected. Prioritise self-care, listen more, be patient and always remember to be empathetic towards others.
SWO1 Noor Asrik addressing the emotional needs of a Full-time National Serviceman (NSF)
Rescue 995: What kept you going being an SCDF paracounsellor?
SWO1 Noor Asrik: I have a strong belief in showing CARE (Caring Action in Response to Emergencies) for our officers. As paracounsellors, we are the pillars of strength to help and motivate officers who are in need to function and perform well in their course of work.
LTC Foo: I would say that it is my friends and comrades in the Life Saving Force that have kept me motivated throughout the years in my role as a paracounsellor.
Rescue 995: If you were to use one word to describe the role as a paracounsellor, what would it be?
SWO1 Noor Asrik: Resourceful. A paracounsellor has to be a patient listener, non-judgmental, attentive to details and cues, help those officers in need to see the positive perspectives in their situation and last but not least, to be sincere and trustworthy.
LTC Foo: Beacon. We are a source of light to those who may feel that they are in the darkness at different points of their life.
Rescue 995: Can you share some mental health tips for officers in SCDF on how they can take good care of their psychological wellbeing?
LTC Foo: Do not keep everything to yourself. There are people out there who genuinely care and are ready to hear you. If you have no immediate solution to a problem, take a break and go do the things that make you happy. It is also important to keep yourself physically fit because a healthy lifestyle helps to promote good mental health.
SWO1 Noor Asrik: Self-care is very important. If you are feeling down, some of my recommendations are as follows.
(1) Talk things out — this is one of the best ways to pick yourself up.
(2) Try something new — this will lead your mind to focus on the new experience. It can be a new hobby or a new place for vacation.
(3) Keep yourself fit — I often go for 5-kilometre runs alone or with my spouse. Fitness is key to the overall wellbeing of a person.
(4) Pause — if life is getting hectic, slow down and get back on track once you are ready.
(5) Good night's sleep — sufficient rest helps keep your mind healthy, reduces stress nd improves concentration.