Singapore

SCDF NSF who died in pump well could not swim

His camp mates knew that Corporal Kok Yuen Chin was afraid of water, says aunt

He could not swim, and had told his siblings in Melaka he was afraid of being thrown into the pump well when he returned to Singapore.

Corporal (CPL) Kok Yuen Chin's colleagues from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) had told him that he would be thrown into the 12m-deep well to celebrate his last few days in service.

But the full-time national serviceman's aunt, Madam Kok Chun Fa, said that her nephew saw it as anything but celebratory.

"Everyone in the camp knew that he was afraid of water, and could not swim," she told The New Paper in an interview last night. "The whole family was worried, but we thought there would be someone supervising the situation."

Cpl Kok, who had returned to Malaysia to vote in the general election last week, even bought snacks to take back to Singapore for his colleagues to try to persuade them not to rag him.

His pleas fell on deaf ears, as Cpl Kok ended up in the Tuas View Fire Station's pump well on Sunday, where he was found unconscious at about 9.20pm.

He was rushed to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital but was pronounced dead.

Former Civil Defence servicemen and regulars told TNP that ragging, carried out in the spirit of camaraderie, is a rite of passage firefighters undergoing training often face.

Activities range from relatively harmless acts like pinning somebody down and applying boot polish to their skin, to throwing someone into water.

While commanders often remind and warn their men against such prohibited activities, they still happen because of the deep-seated tradition.

While the activities are usually harmless and carried out without ill-intent, sometimes they can end up very wrong, like in Cpl Kok's case.

Following the incident, two SCDF regular personnel were arrested yesterday.

They are a Warrant Officer 1 and a Staff Sergeant, who worked the same shift duty at the fire station along with Cpl Kok, SCDF said in a media statement last night.

The 12-m deep well, which is used for marine and rescue training or to test water pumping equipment, has a 1.8m diameter opening, said SCDF.

During the incident, the water level was about one metre below the opening of the well.

Cpl Lee was pulled out of the well only after the water was drained. A number of SCDF personnel had jumped into the pump well to look for him when he failed to resurface.

"He had been celebrating his impending ORD with his squad mates, and one of the activities involved getting him into the pump well," the SCDF statement said.

A former SCDF regular who contacted TNP yesterday said such ragging is typically done to mark an NSF's end of service in the SCDF. TNP understands that while SCDF bans such practices, it continues to be carried out occasionally.

Describing the incident as a clear violation of SCDF's rules and a tragic loss of life, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said it should not have happened at all.

"It is unacceptable, period. We will get to the bottom of it,"he promised.

Mr Shanmugam added that he had asked SCDF to conduct an audit, whereby action would be taken against perpetrators of unsanctioned activities.

He said: "We have to send a clear message. Action has been taken before, when conduct which is not sanctioned takes place, celebration or otherwise.

"But then after a while, people forget and break the rules again."

The SCDF said that it appeared the mishap arose as a result of activities which SCDF has prohibited.

SCDF deputy commissioner Chong Hoi Hung stressed that the SCDF does not condone unauthorised activities. He said that this was the first such death related to an unauthorised activity.

Cpl Kok's family has taken his body back to Melaka.

SCDF said: "The police are conducting investigations to determine what had happened, including how Cpl Kok fell into the pump well, and whether any person(s) are criminally responsible."

A Board of Inquiry (BOI) will also be convened to look into the case, with full details to be made public in due course.

The death comes two weeks after an Singapore Armed Forces NSF, Private Dave Lee, died on April 30 after suffering from heatstroke during a march. He was promoted to Corporal First Class after his death.

In 2016, an SCDF recruit died three days after enlisting. Before his death, he made a Facebook post where he said his bunkmates found him "blur" and a burden.

In 2015, 23 SCDF officers faced disciplinary action after a video of them trashing their bunk went viral.

Death