Only Iron Men need apply
This article first appeared in The New Paper on June 11 2012 and has been reproduced in its entirety.
Over more than 24 hours on Thursday (June 7, 2012) and Friday, 16 men took part in the selection test to join the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF)’s 18th Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (Dart) specialist course.
Dart is made up of 92 individuals who undertake the force’s most difficult search and rescue operations. In the past, this has included 2004’s Nicoll Highway collapse and a series of overseas rescue missions from 1990.
It can be mobilised for overseas deployment within two hours and was most recently deployed in Japan’s earthquake and tsunami disaster in March last year.
By the end of the test, eight men remained.
The New Paper spent the two days with one of them, Staff Sergeant (SSG) Mohamed Jailani.
8am, Thursday: Briefing. Like the other test participants, SSG Jailani, 34, has trained long and hard.
“You don’t put a limit to your runs,” he says.
He has been running with a 5kg load around the Orchard and Havelock Road areas every other day for the last six months, for about 45 minutes each time.
Everywhere he went, the 1.58m, 46kg man would also be carrying a 60m-long 7kg hose in his bag.
“People might stare, but I didn’t care, it was part of my endurance training. It’s a matter of personal pride that I joined,” says the sixth-year SCDF man.
“Also, it’s something I can tell my children.”
Waiting at home are his 40-year-old wife as well as five boys and five girls.
The men hand over their watches and mobile phones.
9am: Thursday: 7km run with 5kg load.
The men are transported to Lim Chu Kang Cemetery.
One man fails to make the 50-minute time limit, but the rest applaud his effort anyway when he finishes the run. Their T-shirts are soaked with sweat.
10.30am, Thursday: 250m swim. It is held at the Civil Defence Academy located along Jalan Bahar.
11.30am, Thursday: Break. The men have been issued combat rations, to be consumed over the test period. SSG Jailani consumes one such package – mee goreng.
12.30pm, Thursday: Breathing Apparatus (BA) Endurance Circuit.
In full gear and with their BA kit – an additional 20kg – the men have to set up two 30m-long fire hosereels and a two-storey ladder, carry a 30kg dummy up and down three storeys, and haul up two 25kg jerrycans over those three storeys.
Everywhere the men travel, there is a truck nearby with a bell attached to its roof. When men are seen struggling, instructors taunt: “Ring the bell,” which signals that the men are giving up and dropping out of the test.
By the end of the BA circuit, two men are out.
4.45pm, Thursday: Heat and humidity. After a 700m walk stretchering a 90kg dummy known as “Big John,” the men have to climb nine storeys, still in their BA sets.
hey then enter a maze in smoky conditions and spend 15 minutes in a 60 to 80 deg C “sauna”, where they are given tasks like uncoiling a knotted 60m-long rope.
Five men are down.
7.30pm, Thursday: Break.
8.30pm, Thursday: 21km road march. The eight men are back in the cemetery, this time stretchering Big John as they march for four hours, four to each stretcher.
Says SSG Jailani: “You hang on for your team-mates, so they don’t get stuck carrying a heavier weight if you leave.”
1.30am, Friday: Breaching a concrete wall.
Pounding noises fill the air as the men work to make holes about 60cm by 60cm in the walls.
Says Senior Instructing Officer of the Urban Search and Rescue Specialist Branch, Captain Jason Chua: “Sometimes, when Dart members go into a collapsed structure, there could be aftershocks, which end up trapping them. Compared with normal firefighters, they must have a greater will to live; they can’t just sit around and wait for somebody to rescue them.”
SSG Jailani finishes fast and has about two hours to rest, though he cannot sleep due to cramps.
6.30am, Friday: Break.
8am, Friday: Height confidence test. The men scale a cat ladder and rappel from the seventh storey.
9.30am, Friday: Confidence in confined space. Still in BA kit, they worm through a 20m-long tunnel, just big enough for a man to crawl through.
11am, Friday: End.
Says Dart Commander Lieutenant Colonel Alan Toh: “Dart members need more than physical strength; we must also stretch them mentally so that they can have a cool head when crises strikes.
“I’m pleased with the outcome of the test – sometimes, the nature of the exam is unreasonable, but we have to do it.”
SSG Jailani is one of the eight who passed Dart selection.
He says: “It’s a challenge not to know the time when it’s going to end. There’s not enough food or sleep. A lot of times I wanted to give up, but I thought of my station, my wife and kids. I didn’t want to disappoint them. In Dart selection one should expect the unexpected.”
A 10-week Dart conversion course now awaits him.