TRIAL
BY FIRE

Driven by a passion for saving lives,
Senior Assistant Commissioner (Retired)
Derek Pereira has helped to raise
Singapore’s firefighting capabilities.

Based on passages from
Rescue 995: Tribute Edition
by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF)

He never thought he’d be a firefighter.But step by step, Mr Derek Pereira found himself in a career that he loved. “It started as a job for a fresh graduate, which evolved into a serious responsibility to ensure the safety of fellow Singaporeans. Finally, it became a passion,” he says.

Mr Pereira, who was Senior Assistant Commissioner at the SCDF from 1990 to 2015, played a crucial role in developing fire safety regulations in Singapore. Armed with a degree in Chemical Engineering, he served with the Ministry of National Development to conduct fire safety and risk assessments, particularly on the Singapore Petrochemical Complex on Pulau Ayer Merbau. “To a young engineer, that was a chance of a lifetime!” he says. “I saw it as an opportunity for me to acquire technical knowledge, as well as project management skills through engagement with foreign investors.”

Mr Pereira was appointed to the Development and Building Control Division, where all industrial development and building projects involving chemical plants, storage and transport “found their way to my desk,” he says. In addition, the Dangerous Trades and Petroleum Storage and Transport regulation came under his purview.

In 1985, fire safety activities were centralize under the Singapore Fire Service (SFS). Mr Pereira was part of the team that started the Fire Safety Bureau at SFS. Marrying fire safety with fire operations, the bureau allowed SFS to gain an understanding of the needs and perspectives of industry practitioners. Mr Pereira and his team also introduced a new emphasis on fire prevention and contingency planning for emergencies. “It was definitely a challenging phase, but I cannot deny that it brought us great satisfaction too,” he says.

In 1989, SFS merged with SCDF, andMr Pereira was given the opportunity to switch from the Civilian Engineering Scheme to the Uniformed SFS Scheme.“It meant that I’d have a wider spectrum of opportunities to progress into other areas of specialisation, instead of only being limited to fire-safety-related work,” he says. “I took the plunge, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made for my life.”

Mr Pereira recalls that in the early days, a firefighter’s badge of honour was the number of fires he’d fought. Over time, this form of recognition came to an end as the number of fires decreased due to better fire prevention methods and public education. “It takes a special person with a deep commitment to take on the demanding lifestyle of an emergency responder,” explains Mr Pereira. “Today, I look back with fond memories at the tremendous journey that the SCDF has made from its humble beginnings. Everything from its public image, manpower constraints, training and development, equipping, doctrines and operational procedures are now benchmarked by many others from around the world.”

Still, some things will never change.“Firefighters, then as now, love their jobs,” says Mr Pereira. “This stems from our desire to be operational, to save lives and to preserve property against all hazards.”

It’s this shared passion of SCDF officers that gave Mr Pereira direction throughout his firefighting career. “It was a team effort,”he says. “The Lifesaving Force today is indeed something all SCDF officers, past and present, can be proud of. I’m confident that they'll continue to perform their duties to do good while being guided by the Force’s core values of pride and care.”