All ready to help

Reporters appreciate tough assignment after first-hand look at training of SCDF's search and rescue crew

The frequency of earthquakes around the region means Singapore's Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (Dart) is sometimes called on to help with rescue efforts, so the need to maintain the skills for such work is critical.

Staying sharp for such operations is vital for the Dart crew, an elite 92-man team under the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

The Straits Times experienced just how hard it is to develop and maintain those skills when participating in an exercise at the SCDF's urban search and rescue training facility in the Home Team Tactical Centre in Mandai Quarry Road.

The first segment of the exercise last week was staged at the Leaning Tower, a three-storey structure tilted at an 18-degree angle to simulate a partially collapsed building.

Led by Sergeant 3 Muhammad Naufal Azlin, a team of four reporters donned protective suits and climbed to the top floor to rescue a "casualty". For us, this was a 25kg dummy, but Dart members handle dummies more than three times heavier.

Being in the tilted building was disorienting and dizzying, and it was tough not to stumble about as we struggled to regain our bearings.

In the second segment, our team had to extricate a "casualty" trapped in a tunnel under a large pile of rubble.

Two rescue dogs trained to track human scent were first deployed to narrow down the location. Wireless seismic devices and a video camera probe were then used to pinpoint the exact spot.

Then, we crawled through the tunnel with about 60kg of equipment - including a 4kg rebar cutter, a 10kg concrete drill, blankets and a stretcher.

For the next half hour, we took turns to drill through a 10cm-thick concrete slab to get to the casualty on the other side.

We were later told that the slab was of a "lower grade", compared with the 20cm-thick slabs that Dart members have to drill through in training.

The entire exercise had been significantly scaled down from usual training conditions.