In the event of a ship fire, marine firefighters must suit up in gear weighing 9kg in less than a minute, scale a 5m-to 9m-long pilot ladder to breach the vessel, and pack on the 12kg breathing apparatus they have hauled on board.
Hopefuls are put through three years of land firefighting training and a five-week marine firefighting specialist course, and must pass a certification test before landing a spot in the elite squad.
In a 7½-hour tour earlier this month, The Straits Times joined marine firefighters on exercises which are part of the actual certification test.
They are held at Orca, the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) ship firefighting training facility at the Home Team Tactical Centre (HTTC) in Mandai Quarry Road.
The SCDF Marine Command is responsible for marine fire and rescue incidents and containment of chemical agents. The unit, which has divisions in West Coast and Pulau Brani, has about 200 firefighters and support staff in total.
Last year, it responded to 10 marine fire and rescue incidents, as it did in 2016 – though in 2014 there was just one.
Officers can monitor drills from the control room using thermal image cameras and add sound effects for added realism.
Besides the SCDF, about 400 trainees from the Republic of Singapore Navy, Police Coast Guard and Singapore Maritime Academy have attended courses at Orca.
During training and operations, marine firefighters wear equipment weighing around 21kg.
And no exception was made for journalists taking part in a corridor flashover exercise, in which we had to put out an overhead fire in a dark, narrow aisle.
The SCDF has three simulators at the HTTC. Apart from Orca, there is a chemical hub which provides training for hazardous material (HazMat) incidents, and an urban search and rescue training facility which simulates casualty rescue and evacuation operations.
Amid the country’s maritime growth, the Marine Command division should remain a bulwark against terrorism, said Major Neo.
“There are more and more vessels coming into Singapore. Because of this, they bring a lot of possible threats and risks…
“By building up the Marine Command in SCDF, we are getting more and more ready to handle incidents should something happen one day.”