Singapore students burned by flash fire at school camping trip in Pahang
S'pore students hurt by flash fire in M'sia
The Singapore students went for an outdoor camp in Malaysia which was supposed to include some fun at a campfire.
But they got a first-hand lesson on dealing with fire instead when 14 of them got burned.
The boys were among 60 Secondary 3 students from Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School who went for a four-day three-night Outdoor Learning Experience camp on Monday.
They were accompanied by six teachers to the Xcape Resorts in Taman Negara, a national park in Pahang, for a camping and survival training programme.
Some of the boys said the flash fire caught everyone by surprise while they were preparing for a campfire on Wednesday evening, their last night.
The New Paper (TNP) spoke to three of the injured boys, who were sitting on a log when the accident happened.
In the scramble to get out of the way, the log was pushed and Devandran Balasubramaniam, 15, said he fell towards the flame.
Devandran told TNP: "The fire happened in a flash.
"I fell face forward and felt the heat on my chin and nose.
"My first thought was to find water for my burns but there was no source of water around."
He had second-degree burns around his facial area, and on his right thigh and shin.
Kobbikaanth Krisnan, 15, who fell backwards from the log, had second degree burns on his right leg.
The third boy, Ivan Nedunjaziyan, 15, suffered minor burns to the leg.
Since it happened so quickly, it was difficult to confirm what sparked the flash fire.
Kobbikaanth said: "It was drizzling that night, and the fuel must have spread out from the pile of wood meant for the fire."
The three boys said they thought that someone may have dropped a candle accidentally and sparked off the fire.
Earlier that evening, the students had gone on a night trek around the resort and were told not to bring their mobile phones and bags.
They were divided into groups of five and each group was given one candle.
Their walk was supposed to end with a campfire to celebrate the end of the training.
The campfire was to be held on a slope, and students and teachers were seated around the area.
It was to be lit by one of the teachers with a torch pole. Three resort instructors were there to supervise.
Since it was drizzling, the fuel that had been poured on the wood appeared to have been carried by the rainwater down the slope and near the feet of the students there.
That was when the flash fire erupted.
The resort instructors then told the injured students to spread butter on their burns.
But their science teacher warned them not to do so and to clean their burns immediately.
Students with more serious injuries were then rushed to a nearby clinic, which was a 30-minute drive away.
The rest were taken to a local government hospital, about 1½ away.
At the hospital, Kobbikaanth said he was given an injection on his arm, a cream for his wound and painkillers.
After the medical checks, they were all taken back to the resort and told they were to stay there for the night.
The next morning, the students were taken back by bus to Singapore.
Two of the boys' parents said the teachers contacted them only at that point. (See report above.)
The injured students were then taken to KK Women's and Children's Hospital at around 7pm, where they were received by the school's management and their parents.
When TNP called the school yesterday, vice-principal Dr Chua Puay Huat, in his 50s, said: "Students' welfare and well-being are of utmost importance to us and to our knowledge, all injured students have been discharged as of May 28."
"The school is still investigating this matter, and will reach out to parents as soon as possible."
The fire happened in a flash. I fell face forward and felt the heat on my chin and nose. My first thought was to find water for my burns but there was no source of water around.
- Devandran Balasubramaniam
No protocol regulating campfire conduct
- TNP INFOGRAPHICS: TEOH YI CHIE
There should have been at least a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher, and a first-aid kit at the campfire site, said outdoor experts.
One of them, Mr Leong KP, a camp programme manager who is in his 50s and is based in Singapore, told The New Paper: "A bucket of water or a fire extinguisher at the side is strongly recommended for safety reasons."
"First-aid kits should also be readily available and within reach during campfire activities," he said.
When asked what could result in an explosive fire, Mr Leong said that only petrol will cause fire to react so violently.
On the use of butter on burns, which is a folk remedy not grounded in science, he said that the best way to deal with a burn first is to cool it down with water - nothing else.
The chief executive officer of Camp Challenge, Mr Joey Ng, 32, said: "There is no protocol that regulates the conduct of campfire in the Singaporean industry. Each organisation follows its own standard operating procedures."
Mr Ng said that general safety measures include appropriate distance for participants (5m from fire), allowing only trained instructors to manage the fire, and to cordon off the fire pit until the next morning to prevent anyone from getting too close by mistake.
BOYS' PARENTS UPSET WITH SCHOOL
Some of the boys' parents were dismayed that the school did not tell them about the flash fire when it happened.
Kobbikaanth Krisnan's father said he was not given a proper explanation from the school.
"I was very disappointed with the school's response that night because not only did they take so long to inform us, they did not tell us what exactly happened that night and why the students got injured," said Mr Krisnan Raman, 45, a taxi driver.
Devandran Balasubramaniam's mother, Madam Mageshwary Narainasami (left), 37, expressed concern over the trust that the school had broken.
"Money is not the biggest issue now for us. Who will give me back my son if anything more serious had happened to him?
"We just want the school to assure us that they will sincerely take care of our children," said Madam Mageshwary.