This post won’t be a long one. It is in fact a short commentary on the small fire that broke out at Newton MRT Station yesterday. Two issues deserve mention here: the responses of those impacted by the fire, and of course, SMRT’s reaction.
Pictures of You, Me, and the Smoke
What captured everyone’s attention for the day was not so much the train disruption that arose from the fire, but the fact that several people (in particular, one lone ranger) were taking videos and pictures in the midst of the smoke. Our self-styled ‘Ministry of Laughter’ made this meme with a very apt caption.
Additional footage of the incident came from Mr. Victor Tan, citizen-journalist of the day. In the midst of the smoke, he managed to take a video of commuters leaving the scene and most interestingly, he managed to capture someone else taking his camera phone out for a picture. Credit must go to Mr. Tan, for without it netizens would not have been able to see what it was like.
This is precisely where I fail to comprehend. Why on earth and for the sake of their lives would people simply prioritise taking footage of the scene over evacuating the station?
I find such an attitude troubling, because it reeks of complacency and a complete lack of situational awareness. This may have been a small fire, but it was an emergency nonetheless. The foremost task in any emergency is to save your own life, not take a picture or video and frantically upload it onto Facebook and Twitter. If comments on The Straits Times Facebook post are anything to go by, some people share the same sentiments as I do.
It is completely worrying to see such a nonchalant and blatant display of smugness and complacency because it is symptomatic of something that lies much deeper in the psyche of other people. I am still unable to accurately place my finger on what it is, but it is something that does not bode well.
Another (silly) concern of this worrywart writer is this: if it had been a terrorist attack instead of a small, localised fire, would people have taken a picture with the terrorist(s) and upload it on Facebook as their profile picture?
No other company has been as heavily assailed as SMRT in recent months. The embattled transport operator has been struggling to restore public confidence after a series of train mishaps (and a bus workers’ strike as well).
According to a TODAY report, confusion reigned as commuters were initially clueless as to what had happened and an evacuation plan failed to materialise coherently due to fuzzy train announcements. While staff were mobilised on the ground, it seemed that communications could have been much better.
This incident shows yet once more the technical faults of SMRT and how much they really need to improve in terms of maintenance. We can only be thankful that this was a small fire that was resolved within two to three hours.
Also, let us not forget SMRT’s ground staffu. Kudos have to be given to them because they are the ones who bear the brunt of public anger towards SMRT’s failings. From what I know anecdotally, morale in SMRT, especially among ground staff, is low. Think about it: would you work as a member of the MRT station staff? I don’t think many would. I salute the men and women who do their jobs day-in-day-out at MRT stations across Singapore, for their job is not an easy one.
The fire at Newton MRT Station showed that our emergency readiness is far from desirable, if public indifference towards the situation can be deemed as a symptom of a larger and more worrying symptom of a deeper problem. At the same time, while we are upset with SMRT, let us also make the effort to be kind towards their station staff, for they – just like many other workers – are doing their job, earning their keep, only so that they can feed themselves and their families.