SINGAPORE: The commander of the Tuas View Fire Station, where full-time national serviceman (NSF) Kok Yuen Chin was pushed into a pump well and drowned, said on Thursday (Jun 13) that he had never seen nor participated in the “kolam” ragging ritual before.
Taking the stand in the trial against his subordinates, rota commander Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon and deputy commander First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, Major (MAJ) Huang Weikang told the court he had never seen a kolam incident before, although he knew what it entailed.
It means that “someone eventually will end up in the pump well”, he explained.
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MAJ Huang’s subordinates are contesting a charge each of causing grievous hurt to 22-year-old Corporal (CPL) Kok by a rash act, by not stopping their men from putting him in the well. CPL Kok was pushed in and drowned, with officers retrieving his body 36 minutes after he fell in, on May 13 last year.
MAJ Huang, who was the fire station commander at Tuas View Fire Station from August 2016 to December 2018 and is now a senior fire investigator at the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), said he had never been a victim of ragging nor been part of a kolam ritual himself.
He told the court he was not at the fire station on the fateful day as it was a Sunday and he was not working.
I WAS PUZZLED, SAID MAJ HUANG
“I remember that night, I was at home,” he said, describing when he first heard about the incident. “At about nine plus, I received a call from (rota commander) Kenneth.”
He said he wondered why Chong called him as it “was odd” for him to call him at night unless it was important.
Swallowing, MAJ Huang said: “I cannot remember his exact words, but he told me something along the lines of CPL Kok falling into the kolam and (how they could not) find his body.”
“Initially, I was of course puzzled over why CPL Kok was in the pump well. And what did they mean (when they said) they could not find his body?” MAJ Huang continued.
“The pump well is very narrow, (it has a) circular structure, so I was confused by that statement so I probed further, asked him what happened again and I think Kenneth updated that he was trying to suck out the water to find him (CPL Kok).”
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MAJ Huang said that the pump well is used to test that the pumps of the fire engines are able to draw water from an open source and use that water. The well was usually filled almost to the brim, with a barricade around it to prevent people from falling in, he added.
MAJ Huang said he told Chong to continue with the rescue operation as the former called his superior to tell him about the incident.
He then made his way to the fire station, while receiving calls from both SCDF headquarters’ operations centre and Chong.
When he got there, there was “a lot of equipment all over the place”, with officers standing around and paramedics attending to CPL Kok. CPL Kok was taken to hospital where he died, and the cause of death was drowning.
“THERE ARE STORIES WE CAN’T PROVE”
MAJ Huang told the court that if he had been in the control room when the term “kolam” was mentioned, he would have “definitely (been) more alert as to why in a celebratory moment there was the mention of the word kolam and what it might suggest”.
When asked why he would have been more alert, MAJ Huang said: “I mean, these (kolam activities many years ago) are stories we can’t prove, but it’s at the back of the head that the guys in front of you – in a celebration moment … they might do it … to CPL Kok. They might put him into the kolam.”
He added that if he had seen the men carrying CPL Kok towards the pump well, he “would have stopped it because this is an act of ragging and it’s a dangerous act of ragging”.
The men would have stopped, he said, “because it’s an order”.
MAJ Huang told the court that ragging “runs counter to SCDF’s philosophy of caring for its personnel” and that NSFs who join the force are told about ragging and other common offences they might encounter.
Defining ragging, MAJ Huang said it referred to any action, physical or verbal, that could cause bodily harm to a person, whether or not the subject is willing.
He said he would not have left the scene when the men were gathered around the pump well, as Nazhan did, and instead would have asked them “What do (you) think (you) are doing here?”
There were anti-ragging posters placed around the fire station, in the dormitory as well as near the lockers as these were where groups gathered and where there could be a risk of ragging, said MAJ Huang.
He also said he would not have left the matter to those under him in rank, he said.
“They are already doing something I’m uncomfortable with, to delegate my responsibility to them might not be the best option for me,” said MAJ Huang.
He told the court that he knew Chong to be “a responsible rota commander”, hardworking and going out of his way to complete tasks assigned to him, while Nazhan was “quite involved in the rota” as he would be present with his officers even during physical training.
“CPL Kok is a very good boy,” he said. “You tell him things, he is very obliging, he will listen to you. He will follow instructions.”
CPL Kok’s father sat in the court on Thursday, watching the videos of his son smiling in the control room during the cake-cutting ceremony for his Operationally Ready Date, and being carried towards the pump well.
The trial is slated to run until Jun 21.