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Every second counts: How he’s using data to reduce rescue speed
As the head of operations at the 3rd Division of the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilfred Lim spearheads initiatives to advance technologies in emergency response.
As the head of operations at the 3rd Division of the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilfred Lim spearheads initiatives to advance technologies in emergency response. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

MHA scholar is leveraging his analytical skills to make the rescue efforts of the SCDF faster and more effective

Time management is important for Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) Wilfred Lim, but not in terms of organising meetings or meeting deadlines. Rather, he is focused on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) emergency response.

Since the day he took up the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Uniformed Scholarship in 2006, he has sought faster and more effective ways to save time and therefore lives.

For instance, LTC Lim was involved in developing Punggol Fire Station, Singapore’s first smart fire station that boasts many tech innovations. This station also serves as a testbed for smart applications to be introduced to other fire stations in Singapore.

Smart applications include a high-speed version of the shutter barrier which retracts into the ceiling in double-quick time, allowing fire engines to swiftly move out from the station.

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Tapping technology to fight fires

“The moment we receive an incident call, the fire engine only needs to inch forward for the sensors to detect its movement. The high-speed shutter will ascend rapidly, saving about 10 seconds in response time,” explains LTC Lim.

Those 10 seconds can make a big difference between life and death.

Other time-saving innovations include an automated medical store, reducing the demand for manual stock management and allowing paramedics to focus on operational needs and training.

Today, the 38-year-old is the head of operations at the 3rd Division of the SCDF, where he leads and inspires the men and women under his charge to constantly innovate and remain operationally ready to protect the northern region of Singapore.

Engraved in LTC Lim’s memory are the times when he and his team raced against the clock to rescue people from fire and rescue incidents, and other hazardous situations.

“Ultimately, it drives home the importance of preparedness, training and constant improvement,” he notes.

Preparation is key

As part of his training, LTC Lim (far right) took part in the air crash scenario exercise at Seletar Airport known as Exercise BEAR 2023. PHOTO: SCDF

When LTC Lim was a rota commander at the Tampines Fire Station – his first role – and later, Central Fire Station commander, he led a team of 30 to 150 firefighters and other SCDF staff who trained constantly to deal with tough situations. Their training always involved the use of innovative equipment.

To LTC Lim, who studied electrical engineering at the National University of Singapore, innovation is critical in helping firefighters prepare for all types of situations.

“In my teens, I found deep respect for SCDF when I saw on TV how they responded to the Nicoll Highway collapse,” says LTC Lim.

“When I was applying for the MHA scholarship, I learnt that SCDF prided itself on research, development and innovation, and relied extensively on specialised equipment. One example is the iconic Red Rhino, almost unheard of anywhere else in the world.”

Red Rhino is the nickname for SCDF’s Light Fire Attack Vehicle, which was introduced in 2000 to provide rapid response to fires. The current sixth-generation Red Rhino is designed and engineered to support the transition from four-man to three-man operations. The Red Rhino’s new capabilities leverage robotics, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and enhanced equipment. It is also equipped with two compressed air foam trolleys, which are three times more effective than water in extinguishing fires.

“In the Singapore context, we cannot just react to incidents. We need to do a lot of forward thinking and be judicious about how we plan our resources.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Wilfred Lim, recipient of the MHA Uniformed Scholarship (SCDF)

Optimising response

Due to challenges such as the declining birth rate in Singapore, this means there are fewer people to serve on taskforces like the SCDF, making the constant pursuit of innovation by LTC Lim and his colleagues necessary.

“We are facing a manpower challenge, so we have to make up for it with the use of technology,” he says.

When LTC Lim was posted to the operations department early in his SCDF career, he began to study the concept of dynamic resource optimisation (DRO).

“DRO was about looking at incident data and studying how we responded to situations. From there, we could project into the future and plan how we could better perform in responding to incident calls,” he explains.

LTC Lim leads his team in monitoring incidents and planning missions from SCDF’s forward command vehicle, which is deployed for emergency response. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

His work on data analysis helped to lay the foundation for SCDF’s efforts in increasing its efficiency in reaching people in need.

In 2018, calls for emergency medical services had risen 5 per cent annually, due in part to the ageing population. By using DRO and drawing on patterns gleaned from data, SCDF could deploy its existing fleet of ambulances to areas where higher demand was expected.

Another challenge for SCDF is Singapore’s dense urban landscape with many tall buildings.

“How do you fight fires in buildings that are 30 storeys high?” LTC Lim points out. “We have two firefighting vehicles that can reach up to 90m high.”

The high-level articulated 90m vehicle allows firefighters to stand on an aerial platform and it is capable of discharging 3,800 litres of water per minute.

Constantly thinking ahead

LTC Lim is always keen to share the cutting-edge practices of SCDF, partly to dispel the notion that the agency only springs into action during fires and disasters.

“Figuratively speaking, firefighting means that when something has happened, you throw water – a snap solution – at the fire, which represents the problem,” he says, referring to the broader role of SCDF.

“However, in the Singapore context, we cannot just react to incidents. We need to do a lot of forward thinking and be judicious about how we plan our resources.”

This is imperative as Singapore’s challenges constantly evolve and SCDF must stay ahead of the game. “SCDF is not a massive organisation and that’s an advantage. We can be very nimble and move fast, and we can implement new technology quickly,” says LTC Lim.

For promulgating the use of technology and digital literacy to conduct operations, he was awarded the Exemplary SkillsFuture @ Public Service Transformation Award in July 2023.

Furthermore, LTC Lim has played a pivotal role in shaping the future capabilities of SCDF.

During his time as a senior staff officer in the operations department, he analysed the existing Singapore landscape to identify challenges and demands. This analysis led him to become the key staffing officer who proposed the establishment of a new fire station in Kallang, which commenced operations in 2019.

LTC Lim (second row, ninth from left) was deployed to the humanitarian relief efforts, code-named Operation Lionheart, in the aftermath of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. PHOTO: SCDF

A commitment to continuous learning

As LTC Lim’s career with SCDF progresses, his dedication to service remains intertwined with a pursuit of personal growth.

It has been 13 years since LTC Lim joined SCDF, and the knowledge acquired from his engineering studies – design, analytical thinking, problem-solving and technical communications – have helped him make a real difference for Singaporeans.

He was exposed to a myriad of challenging yet exciting roles, from fire and rescue rota commander to taking up leadership roles in SCDF and policy development appointments at MHA.

“Being able to use my education to save human lives is a dream come true. I am thankful to SCDF for helping me to realise this dream of mine,” he says.

Despite his achievements, LTC Lim remains humble and is determined to keep learning and contribute more.

In recognition of his contributions, SCDF recently awarded LTC Lim an in-service postgraduate scholarship, which allowed him to further his studies at an overseas institution. But due to family commitments, he has opted for the master’s programme in international relations at Nanyang Technological University instead. He will begin his studies in August 2024.

About the MHA Uniformed Scholarship
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Uniformed Scholarship is offered to highly motivated individuals who are passionate to safeguard the safety and security of our nation. Depending on your interests and aspirations, this scholarship will allow you to kick-start your leadership journey as a uniformed officer in one of the five Home Team departments: Singapore Police Force (SPF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA), Singapore Prison Service (SPS), Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) or as a paramedic with SCDF. Before you join as a Guardian of our Home, you will receive the opportunity to pursue your undergraduate studies at a prestigious local or overseas university.
Upon your return, you can look forward to learning and development opportunities to equip you as a future leader in the Home Team.

This article is brought to you by the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

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