(L-R) Hot NHCS dudes in Hazmat suits: (front row) Rexie De Guzman Flores from QARM and Ron Ng from Cardiac Clinics, (back row) Rae Soh from Casemix Unit, Yao Zhangyan from Cardiac Laboratory, Eugene Tan from Medical Social Services, and (second from right) Kyaw Min Tun from Clinical & Translational Research Office. 

Donning a Hazmat suit is hot - the sweat-inducing kind – and not everyone gets the opportunity to wear one. A group of staff who volunteered to be members of the Hospital Decontamination Station (HDS) had the chance to do so. The HDS, which comprises representatives from SingHealth institutions, is an integral part of the SGH Emergency Planning Committee that oversees the campus’ preparedness for civil emergencies and disasters.

“The HDS is the primary responding team when a civil emergency involving hazardous materials (i.e., hazmat) and/or with risks of radiation. The HDS team performs important roles in managing dire scenarios including decontamination of casualties and responding to incidents involving radiation,” shared Jimmy Sum, Assistant Director, Operations (Support Services) who is NHCS’ key HDS coordinator.

(L-R) HDS members don astronaut-like suits to keep them safe from hazardous materials during the yearly Hazmat drill, Exercise Orca; It is hard and hot work as HDS members practice the decontamination process of triaging, stripping, washing, drying, and reclothing casualties.

The SGH Emergency Planning Committee conducts an annual drill, known as Exercise Orca, to test the preparedness and readiness of HDS team in managing casualties exposed to hazardous materials or radiation. Jimmy explained that the process of decontaminating casualties is vigorous, starting from triaging, stripping, washing casualties thoroughly to drying and reclothing them before they are transferred for treatment. During the exercise, HDS members are donned in Hazmat suits for safety. One can imagine how uncomfortable it can be wearing these suits in a non-airconditioned environment while performing multiple tasks. 

The HDS members are grouped in teams and rostered for the exercise. While there are currently about 68 NHCS volunteers, more are required to ensure everyone gets sufficient rest during an exercise or real scenario.

Rexie De Guzman Flores, Assistant Manager from Quality Assurance and Risk Management (QARM) who has been in HDS since 2013 shares, “I was a newbie in NHCS then and was excited to meet many people through HDS. My first exercise was exhausting! Donning the Hazmat suit for an hour was an uphill task, yet a memorable one, as I learned many life-saving techniques such as torniquet application and oximeter reading.” Rexie added that being in HDS for over a decade allowed him to learn invaluable skills and forged new friendships that extended beyond the campus. 
During Exercise Orca, members from the SGH Emergency Planning Committee each play a key role in the command centre to ensure smooth operations.

Another volunteer, Jacqueline Huo, Assistant Manager from Process Transformation and Improvement shared that there is a yearly refresher course that updates HDS members on the relevant skills and fosters teamwork among members across the campus. Similarly, Michael Khoo, Physiotherapist from Cardiac Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Services added that the annual exercise enables HDS team to enhance the communication and coordination between members to ensure a well-organised and efficient response. 

As a nurse volunteer at the treatment station, Senior Staff Nurse Pang Puay Fen from Cardiac Clinics expressed that nurses play a vital role in the primary responding team and work very closely with the medical team to ensure the provision of timely care such as injections and dressings. “The annual exercises are beneficial to enable the HDS team to be familiarised with the procedures while building strong relationship with fellow SingHealth colleagues.”

In situations involving nuclear accidents or radiological emergencies, the Radiation Response Team (RRT), which is a part of HDS and comprising radiographers, play a critical role. “The RRT’s key responsibilities include removal of radioactive materials from affected areas, equipment and individuals to reduce contamination levels. The team will also monitor radiation levels to assess risks, guide response efforts, and provide timely and accurate information to stakeholders to aid in their decision-making,” described Edwin Chong, Manager from Cardiac Radiology who is in the RRT.

“While Exercise Orca may be a yearly affair, emergency preparedness and readiness is an ongoing endeavour. We acknowledge that such annual drills are beyond the normal environment and tasks that our volunteers work and perform in. We deeply appreciate their hard work and contributions in helping to sharpen our ability to respond during a crisis,” said Jimmy.
Long-serving NHCS HDS members were recognised for their contributions at the HDS Members’ Appreciation Lunch in December 2023. The recipients are Rexie De Guzman Flores (third from left), Eugene Tan (fifth from left), and not pictured, Mohamed Amir Bin Pahurudeen, Yao Zhangyan and Paul Goh.

As Jacqueline aptly said, “Each time I put on the suit, I am reminded not to be complacent with the safe environment we have.”

For staff only

The NHCS HDS team invites interested staff to be part of their hot squad. 

Interested staff will complete a health screening form before proceeding with an online training and practical session. For queries, please contact Jimmy Sum at jimmy.sum.k.w@nhcs.com.sg or call 6704 2093.