Sunday, January 11, 2009

'He risked our lives for a bike'

WHEN fire breaks out, what do you try to save first?

For one office worker, it was his bicycle. Which was fine, except that he was fleeing from the 30th storey of a downtown building.

While hundreds of his fellow office workers were evacuating the building after a fire alarm went off at 11.40am yesterday, the man slowed them down by carrying his bicycle in the fire escape stairway.

There was a fire in the basement at 6 Battery Road, and lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio was upset by this man's inconsiderate actions.

Mrs Thio, 38, the corporate and joint managing director of TSMP Law Corporation, said: 'Lives were at stake, and yet he was willing to risk them for a bicycle.

'We were lucky that it was a small fire, or it could have been so dangerous. By carrying such a bulky item, he made the jam in the stairway even worse,' she added.

'Every few steps, we would have to turn, so people had to give him a very wide berth. There were old people and a heavily pregnant lady walking behind him.

'If he didn't want to wait until everyone walked down, he could at least have let them pass,' said Mrs Thio who took a picture of the man and his bicycle when they reached the ground floor.

The pregnant woman, who wanted to be known only as Ms Teo, said the man may have entered the fire escape around the 30th storey.


The lawyer, who's in her 30s, said: 'I was concerned, because if there was a stampede, the bike would have been an obstacle, and people might have tripped over it.

'I was also worried about his safety, because people may have shoved him aside if they started to panic. Thankfully, it was not chaotic, although I didn't know whether it would have been safer walking in front of or behind him.'

Mrs Thio said she told the man, who looked to be in his late 20s, that it was not right for him to carry a bicycle with him.

But he replied that he could walk faster than anyone else despite carrying his bicycle.

She said: 'I could have shouted at him, but I chose to show him some respect and went up to him to tell him that he was holding everyone up. At one point, the bicycle almost hit my head too.

'If it had been me, I would have been humble enough to apologise and let everyone else pass.'

Mrs Thio said there had been several fire drills and people working in the building would have been aware of what they should or should not do in such emergencies.

'What's more, this was not a fire drill, this was the real thing!' she added.

When they reached the ground, a security guard told the man that he should not have brought his bicycle down.

Again, his response was that he could walk faster than anyone else, said Mrs Thio.

Exasperated by the man's attitude, Mrs Thio said she would write to the building management to make sure that all tenants will brief their staff about the right evacuation procedures.

By the time The New Paper arrived at the scene, the man was no longer there.

Other office workers said they smelled burning plastic on their way down, but everyone moved in an orderly manner. There was no pushing and no panic despite the jam on the stairs.

Human resources executive Taufik Taib, 29, said: 'Everyone knew what to do because we just had a fire drill three months ago.'

The building management had evacuated the occupants before the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) arrived.

SCDF public affairs director LTC N Subhas said in a news release that it received a call at 11.41am yesterday about smoke coming out of the building.

Fire-fighters found that a store room in the basement three carpark was on fire and put it out within five minutes using an internal hose reel.

A woman, 44, was sent to Singapore General Hospital due to smoke inhalation. Occupants were allowed back into the building at around 1pm.

SCDF is investigating the cause of the fire.

A spokesman for CapitaCommercial Trust Management, which manages the building, said there was no physical damage to the building.

Smoke was visible from the 5th storey as the smoke from the basement was channelled there through the ventilation shaft.

Source: The Electric New Paper

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