SINGAPORE – When a fire broke out in the stall across from his at West Coast Market Square, Mr Mohd Zairuddin Onan swung into action.

As the flames began to engulf the prawn noodle stall’s exhaust system, Mr Zairuddin headed for the hawker centre’s nearest fire extinguisher. Thanks to the fire safety training he had undergone, he knew not to try and douse the grease fire with water.

“It was a big fire that incurred heavy damage, but we managed to prevent it from spreading to other stalls,” Mr Zairuddin, 53, who runs a Muslim food stall, told The Straits Times.

The incident may have occurred five years ago, but it remained fresh in his mind as he underwent a refresher course conducted by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) last month.

On Sunday (July 14), he was one of about 40 stallholders at the Clementi hawker centre and market to receive a fire extinguisher for completing the one-day community preparedness programme, organised by the West Coast 726 Hawkers’ Association and community partners.

The aim is to train more hawkers on how to react in the event of a fire or other emergency, association chairman Ng Yong Wah said at the event, which featured safety demonstrations by the SCDF.

“Lately in Singapore we’ve had a lot of hawker centres that have these fires. So we want to encourage stallholders to learn what to do, as well as skills like CPR,” said Mr Ng, 71.

The association aims to get at least half of the nearly 200 stalls at West Coast Market Square to complete the course by the end of the year, he added.

An overheated wok caused a fire to break out at a hawker centre in Telok Blangah in February, while in March, a fire in the electrical switch room of Newton Food Centre led to a power outage that lasted nearly 12 hours.

Earlier this month, a blaze that originated in a ground floor shop of a Housing Board block in Ang Mo Kio injured eight.

West Coast GRC MP S. Iswaran, who presented fire extinguishers to hawkers on Sunday, said on the sidelines of the event that hawkers who work with fire and heat are at higher risk of encountering a dangerous situation.

“As we’ve seen from recent experience, this sort of thing can happen anywhere, anytime. So we have to be prepared, we have to make sure all the people on the ground are well-equipped,” said Mr Iswaran, who is Minister for Communications and Information.

Mr Manpal Singh, who helps to run a chapati stall at the hawker centre, said the one-day course made him more confident of being able to handle a fire.

“Having a personal extinguisher for my stall is also much better, I can respond faster to the situation,” said Mr Singh, 48.

Mr Zairuddin, said that since the recent fires in Telok Blangah and Ang Mo Kio, he checks twice that the gas is off before closing his stall for the day.

“I think all hawkers should go for this course, because directly or indirectly they could be involved in a fire, and they have to be prepared,” he said.