CHC member Alex Wee leads a team of youth volunteers to clean up elderly residents’ homes in the aftermath of a fire.
An explosion in one of the ninth-floor flats had caused a blackout which affected some 200 units in the one-room rental block. In addition, many elderly residents staying there were forced to evacuate, as smoke from the fire made it hard for them to breathe.
“The fire left one man dead, and the neighboring units of the burnt down flat were badly charred,” said Alex Wee, Chairman of the Bishan Community Club’s Youth Executive Committee, which was asked to assist with the clean up efforts.
Wee described the extent of the damage. “The walls were covered with thick black soot, and many of the glass panels in the kitchen windows were dislodged and broken. The power supply in the five neighboring units had also been cut off as many of the power cables had melted. In addition, many of the electrical appliances in the households were short circuited due to a power surge as a result of the explosion.”
It is in such dark and difficult circumstances that light shines the brightest. Organizing themselves into groups of four, Wee and 19 other youth volunteers from Bishan-Toa Payoh YEC quickly got to work. They helped to sweep and mop the floors, as well as clean the soot off the walls and the furniture. The volunteers, aged 12 to 35, also helped the elderly residents tidy up their furniture and organize their remaining belongings into storage boxes.
“Many of the old folks are elderly singles with little savings, and some are in poor health. Without our help, they would have found it difficult to clean up their homes by themselves,” Wee pointed out.
“The clean-up was a meaningful and fulfilling activity. We not only got to clean their units but at the same time, we interacted with the residents of those units and learned about their plight,” he said.
Wee recounted another memorable experience. “In one of the units, there was an old lady who refused to move into the temporary lodging arranged for the affected residents, because she is wheelchair-bound and blind. She felt more comfortable in her home, as she can feel her way around her flat and she knows where she puts her stuff.”
Wee realized that bringing a blind person out of her familiar environment is like asking her to step into a whole new world, and the move would have made her uncomfortable.
“Luckily, volunteers from a neighboring church were there to accompany her throughout the ordeal; they even brought her lunch and dinner every day,” he recalled.
In another instance, one of the units close to the burnt down flat miraculously escaped serious damage.
“That particular unit was blessed as it was unaffected by the fire and the owner was not at home when the fire broke out. The owner of the unit kept praising the Lord for protecting her unit and thanked us for helping to clean up her flat,” said Wee.
Indeed, it is such grateful residents which made the clean up effort worthwhile for Wee and his team of young volunteers.
“We worked in teams and the camaraderie made our clean-up easier as we enjoyed each other’s company. The whole clean-up took us two-and-a-half hours, and we felt that it was fulfilling; it was time well-spent.
“As Christians we say we are the salt and light of the world. While we are out there shining in the marketplace, let us not forget to give back, lift up our brothers and sisters, and share our blessings with those who have less,” he adds.
|PHOTO: Kelvin Thong and Randy Ang|
Facts And Figures
According to the Singapore Civil Defence Force, the SCDF responded to 2,395 fires in the first half of 2010, a decrease of 14 percent compared to the same period last year. This number is also much lower than the average number of fires that occurred in the first half of the year for the past 10 years.
Even though the statistics are encouraging, and fires in residential premises dropped by seven percent in the first six months of the year, the three residential fires, including the afore-mentioned fire that left one person dead, is a stark reminder of how fires can run rampant and out of control.
The leading contributing cause of residential fires is rubbish fires, which makes up 43 percent of the total residential fires. Rubbish fires in residential premises include fires in rubbish chutes or bins. These fires are often caused by residents who dispose of lighted materials such as embers from charcoal, cigarette butts and lighted incense materials into rubbish chutes or bins.
Another residential fire hazard is discarded items placed at corridors, lift lobbies, staircases and void decks. These have the potential to be more hazardous due to the high fire load, and also pose as obstacles to the smooth evacuation of people.
Such fires can be prevented with a little consideration by residents—make it a point not to indiscriminately discard lighted materials, and make arrangements with the town councils to remove any unwanted bulky items.