Fearlessly Facing Up To Death: Veteran Forensic Technician

This forensic technician has faced up to death fearlessly for the past 46 years.

Tales From Beyond The Morgue
Mr Bala wears the new powered air-purifying respirator, which gives users better protection against infectious diseases such as SARS and Ebola.

When Mr Balakrishnan P Nagan applied to work with renowned forensic pathologist Professor Chao Tzee Cheng at age 20, there were no openings at the laboratory. Prof Chao suggested that he try working instead as a mortuary attendant at the Ministry of Health’s pathology department.

That one-week stint in 1969 turned into a lifelong career. With time, Mr Balakrishnan, or Mr Bala, rose to become a forensic technician, then a supervisor at the current Health Sciences Authority’s Forensic Medicine Division.

Every day, he and his team of forensic technicians tally police information with the bodies in the mortuary, checking that the bodies are correctly identified before being returned to the next-of-kin. He also supports forensic pathologists in post-mortem examinations.

The 64-year-old has worked on several national crises, often with Prof Chao. One was the 1978 Spyros oil tanker explosion at Jurong Shipyard. The bodies, slick with oil and badly burned, were a challenge to identify. Mr Bala recalls: “The relatives would identify the bodies by telling us, ‘a mole here’ or ‘a tattoo there’, and we’d do the post-mortem before releasing the identified bodies to the families.”

During the Hotel New World tragedy in 1986, Mr Bala not only assisted in the autopsies, he even helped to free the last survivor from the rubble, three days after the building collapsed. Two bodies were blocking the rescuers’ access to a trapped woman who was still alive. Mr Bala and forensic pathologist Dr Wee Keng Poh were called in to help with special tools and expertise.

Mr Bala crawled into a dim, tight space to remove the decomposing bodies so that the survivor would not be traumatised by the sight when she was rescued. That act of courage won him a Public Service Medal.

After 46 years on the job, Mr Bala has seen plenty. But with “every case being different and presenting a new challenge”, his love for his work stays fiercely alive.

Read more about Mr Bala in the Public Service SG50 commemorative book Heart of Public Service. Check out fb.com/PSDSingapore for more details.

    Sep 2, 2015
    Janice Tan and Siti Maziah Masramli
    Edwin Tan, Lumina
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