A spate of blazes that hit public housing flats in the past months – several as a result of exploding personal mobility devices (PMDs) that were left to charge – should sound alarm loud enough to rouse complacent residents who believe that fires are an infrequent occurrence and cannot possibly happen in their homes. Fires are not unusual in Singapore’s history. In fact, a definitive moment occurred when the Bukit Ho Swee squatter settlement burned to the ground in 1961, killing four, destroying 2,800 houses and displacing 16,000 people. The introduction of extensive public housing, in the form of HDB flats, marked a move to higher fire safety standards. The latest fires should, however, refocus minds on the need to follow precautions to minimise risks.

A first line of defence is to consider home fire-alarm devices like automatic smoke or heat detectors which give early warning of fire. According to the Singapore Civil Defence Force, since a smoke detector is more effective in providing a warning than a heat detector, it is recommended for the primary protection of homes. Since June last year, it has been mandatory for all new residential homes to have smoke detectors installed. In the light of the recent outbreaks, the authorities should consider whether to expand the mandatory remit of the device. This would signal the seriousness with which residents should take the possibility of fire, which could disrupt if not devastate their lives and those of their neighbours.

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