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Saving lives in multiple roles

Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) mission to save and protect lives and properties appealed to Ms Wong Xiang Yi, so she applied for the Local Merit Scholarship offered by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). “I joined the Force to serve the public in a meaningful way,” says Ms Wong, who was awarded the scholarship in 2009. The MHA Local Merit Scholarship funds undergraduate education at a local university, and includes tuition fees, maintenance allowances, hostel allowances, and sponsorship for overseas exchange programmes during the course of study. Upon the completion of their studies, scholars can start work as as a Home Team Officer in one of the Home Team departments: SCDF, Singapore Police Force, Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, Singapore Prison Service or Central Narcotics Bureau.

Ms Wong graduated with a degree in life sciences from National University of Singapore in 2013 and joined SCDF as a Rota Commander at Alexandra Fire Station, which is responsible for responding to fire calls and providing Emergency Medical Services (EMS). The 27-year-old was drawn to the variety of work opportunities available in SCDF. She says scholars can expect “reasonably frequent job rotations that will expose one to various aspects of SCDF’s and the Home Team’s operations”.

Saving and protecting lives and properties

In 2015, after one-and-a-half years with Alexandra Fire Station, Ms Wong joined the HazMat department as a senior staff officer (chemical threat). In her new role, she helped to review and ensure that SCDF’s HazMat response plans were scientifically and operationally sound, with a focus on chemical risks and threats. The scholar has been able to put her scientific knowledge to good use in this department. In one instance, she helped to review SCDF’s operating procedures on how to respond to the discovery of a clandestine drug laboratory. “The operating procedures subsequently provided guidance to our ground crew, who responded to an incident involving suspected manufacturing of synthetic cannabis at an industrial building in Yishun,” she says.

Occasionally, she joined the HazMat Emergency Response Team (HEART) in the field, responding to HazMat incidents and helping to identify and monitor unknown hazardous materials in the environment. Ms Wong is unfazed by the high-risk nature of her job. “We are very well-trained to manage these risks. “In fact, we are probably the most well-protected people at the incident site after we don on our personal protective equipment,” she says. SCDF also provided her training prior to undertaking operational roles. The dynamic nature of her job sharpens her mind and keeps Ms Wong on her toes. “SCDF constantly has to grapple with new challenges. So, not only do I have to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty, but also be sufficiently flexible and creative to tackle these myriad challenges. “The ever-changing landscape in which SCDF operates provides me with ample opportunities to exercise my critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” she says. Being exposed to the wide spectrum of SCDF’s operations, the officer has also picked up soft and hard skills that have contributed to her personal growth and development.

Continuous learning

In July last year, Ms Wong took a break from work to study for a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree at Duke-NUS Medical School, with sponsorship by SCDF. “My exposure to EMS at Alexandra Fire Station in my first posting piqued my interest in healthcare and medicine. My subsequent posting as a staff officer at SCDF headquarters made me acutely aware of the rising trend in the number of ambulance calls we receive, and the need to constantly enhance our EMS to manage the challenges that come with an ageing population,” says Ms Wong, who will complete her studies in four years. She hopes to serve in SCDF’s EMS as a medical doctor after completing her residency training. “I hope to shape the future of SCDF’s operations by identifying opportunities to further synergise fire and rescue operations as well as emergency medical services,” she says.