All Fired Up For Volunteering

As civil defence volunteers, this father-daughter duo create family bonding moments unlike any other as they go on enforcement checks with the Singapore Civil Defence Force.
Volunteers WO(V) Lim Ming Kooi and SGT(V) Lim Xiao Wei
Volunteers WO(V) Lim Ming Kooi and SGT(V) Lim Xiao Wei wear the same uniform as the career SCDF officers – an initiative by the SCDF to not differentiate the volunteers from the SCDF officers.

Unlike many others her age, perhaps, SGT(V) Lim Xiao Wei, 30, goes to pubs with her dad. She and her father, WO(V) Lim Ming Kooi are longtime volunteers with the Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit (CDAU).

As Auxiliary Enforcement Officers, they help officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) ensure that shopping malls, residential units, workers’ dormitories and other premises comply with fire safety regulations.

SGT(V) Xiao Wei joined the CDAU in 2010, influenced by her father who became a volunteer three years earlier. CDAU volunteers help out with a range of civil defence duties, such as emergency medical services, firefighting and rescue, public education and serving as guides at the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery.

The senior Lim, 58, has always enjoyed being involved with uniformed groups. In secondary school, he joined the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. In college, he was with the Red Cross Society. He says: “I like to do uniformed groups’ volunteer work because it’s meaningful.”

The Lims were volunteers in public education before moving to the enforcement unit. Now they accompany SCDF officers on enforcement checks, helping out by taking notes, counting the number of people occupying a unit and checking that fire exits signs and sprinklers are working.

With training, the volunteers have become familiar with the Fire Safety Act and procedures for site checks.

Spending time together

Civil defence volunteers serve a minimum of 16 hours a month. With each enforcement shift taking about four hours, the Lims spend at least four days a month volunteering with the SCDF.

As working adults, they often take volunteer shifts on weekday evenings. Both live under one roof but with different schedules, volunteering becomes a way for father and daughter to spend time together. It’s also a respite from long days at work.

By day, WO(V) Lim is a project manager in a Japanese construction company. “You know the Japanese, they work very hard,” he says, joking about a culture of not daring to leave too early if the boss is still in the office.

Regular volunteering is one incentive for him to leave on time. “Sometimes I knock off earlier than my Japanese boss,” WO(V) Lim adds cheerily.

For SGT(V) Xiao Wei, a primary school teacher, evening volunteer shifts means bonding time with her father instead of marking students’ work at home. “My father will bring me out of the house,” she says, “so I’ll just have to do something else.”

If fire sprinklers are not working and there are no exit lights, it’s a danger if something happens and people don’t know where to escape.

Preventing common hazards

Enforcement checks by the SCDF at pubs are combined efforts as the Singapore Police Force handles public entertainment licenses. Police officers join in on enforcement checks to ensure the licences are valid, while the SCDF focuses on fire safety.

On such visits, some pub managers can get quite defensive, WO(V) Lim reveals. “They say we are disturbing their business.” But with pubs being dark and crowded, “if fire sprinklers are not working and there are no exit lights, it’s a danger if something happens and people don’t know where to escape.”

Obstacles such as boxes at staircase landings and spare furniture obstructing escape routes are also hazards.

At workers’ dormitories, overcrowding is an issue. WO(V) Lim says: “I’m surprised that some employers in Singapore can treat the workers like that. In one unit we’ve seen 14 occupants when they’re not supposed to have more than eight.”

SGT(V) Xiao Wei adds: “The space is partitioned with double-decker beds and it’s all hidden, but somehow the career SCDF officers know where to knock, and will tell us where to go to check.”

Enforcement checks are serious business, but there can be comic moments too. WO(V) Lim shares how he asks his daughter and other officers to stay outside while he goes ahead to ensure that the workers’ are properly dressed.

“Some of them wear ‘only one band’,” he says, grinning, with his hands close together to indicate the men wearing skimpy attire. He advises them to put on a sarong or long pants for everyone’s comfort before the checks proceed.

Volunteers WO(V) Lim Ming Kooi and SGT(V) Lim Xiao Wei

Sharing experiences at work

Seeing the workers’ living conditions and their working hours has given SGT(V) Xiao Wei a greater appreciation for what migrant workers’ do to build Singapore.

This is something she tries to share with her students, especially the older ones. She tells them what she can in hopes that the students will better appreciate the migrant workers.

She says: “Older students go for camps, so with the narrow space that they have, I ask them to imagine themselves staying in there for the many days they are at camp, but imagine they are also working for other people. Some of them who can better relate will ask questions, and will share more among themselves.”

For WO(V) Lim, his training in fire safety compliance comes in handy for his company’s building projects and gives him a sharper eye at work. “With my knowledge, I can help to advise if anything is not quite accurate.”

Boosting productivity and safety

At enforcement checks, the career SCDF officers lead and volunteers seldom interact directly with people they meet on-site beyond friendly smiles. Occasionally, however, the volunteers will help with translation to ease communication.

WO(V) Lim says: “Sometimes the career SCDF officers may not be Chinese-speaking. As a volunteer, I can help to do the translation, or even use some dialect – Cantonese, Hokkien – that our officers may not understand. We can help to explain why we are there for checks.”

Having volunteers also means the SCDF enforcement teams can cover more ground. “There are so many things to check, it’s tough to do everything if it’s just one or two officers,” he says.

After many years of volunteering, the Lims are fired up to do even more. Ultimately, the hours spent are to ensure the safety of building occupants all across Singapore, says SGT(V) Xiao Wei.

For the elder Lim, he’s looking forward to even more: ”We hope that we can really help the SCDF, get more training and workshops, and meet more volunteers.”

All-rounded training

Civil defence volunteers are encouraged to learn more than the skills and knowledge they need for their specific volunteer duties. For example, besides knowing the fire safety regulations well, the Lims are also trained in CPR even though that may seem unnecessary for enforcement work.

This is the second in a series of stories celebrating 150 years of civil defence volunteerism.

Start your volunteering journey at and learn more about Public Service Cares at (intranet).


The takeaway: What you can do

  1. Volunteering can be a fun way to bond while helping others
    It’s a meaningful way to spend time with loved ones.
  2. Find ways to balance your work and interests
    Structuring your time outside of work helps you leave the office on time and gives you a break from your to-do list.
  3. What you learn elsewhere can also be helpful at work
    Apply the things you learn outside of work in your professional life.
    Jun 11, 2019
    Siti Maziah Masramli
    Yip Siew Fei
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