LTA (NS) Muhammad Azrie Bin Razale shares how he and his rota mates geared up for an unprecedented operation. 

TEXT: ADLINA ADAM
PHOTOS: SRU

Being part of Singapore’s Whole-of-Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was activated in January to support the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore in the temperature screening of arriving passengers at Changi Airport. LTA (NS) Muhammad Azrie Bin Razale — who was then just three weeks away from completing his National Service — was deployed to the frontline for this operation along with his rota mates from the Special Rescue Unit (SRU).

LTA Azrie (right) conducting temperature screening at Changi Airport.

“Despite the heavy responsibility, I am glad that I was able to contribute to the operation,” he says. “I feel a sense of satisfaction knowing that I had helped my country when the need arose. I am sure it is the same for my colleagues as well.” Having been mobilised, LTA Azrie and his crew worked tirelessly, alternating between day and night shifts from 9am to 9pm, and vice versa.

Before each shift, LTA Azrie would obtain information on the number of screening stations to be manned, before delegating his crew to the respective stations. His crew would then observe the body temperatures of arriving passengers using a thermal image monitor.

Going about his duties, LTA Azrie realised that this frontline role was completely different from his routine drills and exercises before the outbreak. “My colleagues and I were a little nervous at first because we were required to learn and familiarise ourselves with a completely foreign operation immediately,” he confesses. Despite the challenges, they rose to the occasion and did their best.

GEARING UP FOR THE CHALLENGE

The SRU specialises in decontamination, large fire and rescue operations, and mass casualty ambulance conveyance. The regular training sessions and exercises has helped LTA Azrie and his team maintain their operational capabilities and readiness for emergency situations. LTA Azrie and his peers also focused on how to sustain protracted operations with limited manpower, ensuring that personnel who are deployed to the frontline are able to carry out their work productively and safely. Such training has enabled the SRU to adapt quickly and remain vigilant while conducting temperature screening operations at Changi Airport.

LTA Azrie and his team during another SRU exercise, which took place at a mall.

“The only way to eventually conquer this pandemic is by being responsible and working together as one society.”

GAINING A NEW PERSPECTIVE

For LTA Azrie, adaptability and agility are two important traits needed for tackling the challenges that accompanied the temperature screening operations. Limited manpower and having to work night shifts were two of such issues. As a team leader, LTA Azrie had to resolve any issue to the best of his ability with the resources available. “We overcame these issues by ensuring that the crew got sufficient rest when they were on duty,” he says.

Through this experience, LTA Azrie realised that no one can fight COVID-19 alone, and the only way to combat the pandemic is by encouraging one another to be socially responsible. “We need to stay positive in times like this and adapt to the adjustments that have to be made in our lives,” he adds.

In his view, tough times don’t last, but tough men do. “Every day, frontliners perform their duties to keep our country safe and, speaking on their behalf, we appreciate every message and word of encouragement from the public,” he says, before ending this interview with a friendly reminder for everyone to take the personal responsibility to stay safe and wash hands constantly.

Working closely together has led to great camaraderie between LTA Azrie (bottom right) and his rota mates.

More about the Special Rescue Unit

  • Comprises 95 per cent Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) — the highest level of NSF staffing as a frontline unit in the SCDF.
  • Formed in 2002 to provide rescue and decontamination capabilities for unconventional terror attack scenarios such as chemical agent incidents. SRU servicemen were not trained as firefighters back then.
  • All SRU NSFs today graduate from the Civil Defence Academy as trained firefighters. This skillset has seen the unit deployed in support of challenging operations such as warehouse and factory fires.
  • SRU servicemen have one of the most diverse operational experiences in the SCDF. When they are deployed to Rescue Units as Operationally Ready NSmen, they are trained to perform Urban Search and Rescue operations.

*Interview and photo-taking took place before the Circuit Breaker.

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