It may have been almost seven years ago, but the memory of the 2016 CK Building fire – massive plumes of dark smoke, shattering glass and exploding aerosol cans – still remains fresh in Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) Rayner Oon’s mind.
As a commander with only three years of service under his belt at the time, the industrial fire at Tampines Street 92 was LTC Oon’s first time dealing with an incident of such magnitude.
The 15-hour ordeal required then-Captain Oon, who was the primary coordinator for the CK Building firefighting efforts, and his team to fight the inferno in almost total darkness. With 110 personnel from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) – almost the entire head count of Tampines Fire Station – and 27 emergency vehicles deployed, it took five hours to get the fire under control.
“Just the thought of there being someone who might need our help kept me going that day,” says the 35-year-old. “It is why we train so hard – to save lives.”
Miraculously, there were no fatalities and only a handful suffered minor fire-related injuries. For LTC Oon, the incident drove home the reality of an SCDF officer’s responsibility – every action makes an impact.
An ambition to serve
More importantly, it reminded him why he had joined SCDF in the first place.
When he was a teenager, LTC Oon saw an SCDF disaster relief operation on the news during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. This instilled in him a lifelong interest in being there for people in their hour of need.
“The firefighting and rescue operations performed by the SCDF locally and overseas left a deep impression on me,” he says. “I wanted to pick up life-saving skills and be a part of an organisation that keeps Singapore safe and secure.”
This inspired him to apply for the Singapore Government Scholarship (SGS) under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Uniformed Scholarship scheme after his A levels. The scholarship allowed him to pursue his Master of Science in Advanced Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London.
“The analytical and problem-solving skills as well as the interpersonal and communication skills that I acquired during my studies have been essential in contributing to my career journey,” he says.
Upon his return, LTC Oon spent nine months training at the Civil Defence Academy before being posted to Tampines Fire Station, where he served as fire station commander.
Today, the CK Building’s facade is pristine, with no signs of fire damage, and Tampines Fire Station has a new commander at the helm.
LTC Oon has also moved on to a new deployment – as the head of operations at the 1st SCDF Division Operations Branch – where his portfolio has expanded dramatically.
Major incidents such as a natural disaster, terrorist attack or fire fall within his division’s territorial boundaries. He is second-in-command only to the division commander.
From being in charge of a single fire station, he is now engaged in policy work and is responsible for maintaining operational readiness for the eight fire stations that make up the 1st SCDF Division.
His experience on the front line has been invaluable in his current job scope.
“Policymaking is never done in a vacuum,” he says. “Putting in place something that is both effective and practical must always be done with prior experience and knowledge on the ground.”
He also plays a pivotal role in formulating contingency plans for major national events such as the National Day Parade, the annual Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix race and most recently, Exercise Northstar XI, a counter-terrorism exercise, in March this year.
Being ready for a national emergency
Exercise Northstar XI is a Whole-of-Government (WOG), multi-agency exercise that serves to stress-test the national agencies in responding to a major safety and security incident. The exercise also validates the WOG response framework and contingency plans that are in place to deal with such major emergencies.
The planning for Exercise Northstar XI was led by the SCDF and, in the months leading up to the exercise, LTC Oon and his team spent hours rehearsing tabletop scenarios, practising deployment drills and reviewing response plans.
The exercise scenario entailed a simulated terrorist attack on Jurong Island with the “perpetrators” detonating an improvised explosive device causing a chemical pipeline rupture and two oil tank fires. LTC Oon kept a cool head as he deployed his team, all the while liaising with the SCDF personnel already on-site for a better view of the situation.
The chemical pipeline leak and blaze were swiftly quelled and the “perpetrators” quickly apprehended.
“A lot of hard work was put in to prepare for this exercise,” says LTC Oon. “Its culmination and successful execution was really quite rewarding.”
Even though he may no longer be dispatched to front-line emergencies, LTC Oon’s mission remains unchanged: To help those who need it, when they need it the most.
“One of the misconceptions people have about the SCDF is that it only has firefighters and paramedics, but there are also many other positions and job scopes,” he says.
“We do a lot of strategising and other prevention work to ensure Singapore is kept safe and secure.”
The results of effective policymaking and planning may be less visible than operations on the ground, but LTC Oon knows his job behind the scenes is no less important than being on the front line.
After all, it’s the constant vigilance of SCDF officers like him that keep millions of Singaporeans safe daily.
“It is extremely rewarding to know you are making a positive difference in people’s lives,” he says.
|About the Ministry of Home Affairs Uniformed Scholarship|
Depending on your interests and aspirations, this scholarship will allow you to kick-start your leadership journey as a uniformed officer in one of these five Home Team departments, namely Singapore Police Force (SPF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA), Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and Central Narcotics Bureau, or as a paramedic with the SCDF.
This article is brought to you by the Singapore Civil Defence Force