Meet Francine, a paramedic specialist of 9 years in the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). She’s been saving the lives of strangers since she was 22 years old, no matter how sunny or gory the situation is.
While many Singaporeans have the misconception that all paramedics come from the hospital, SCDF deals with emergency cases and provide pre-hospital care. But more than just dealing with cardiac arrests or road traffic accidents, Francine does emergency deliveries and plays therapist to old folks who just need a friend.
All In A Day’s Work
I’m based at Paya Lebar Fire Station, one of the busiest stations in Singapore. We have a 12-hour shift per duty, dealing with 8 calls or more through the emergency hotline 995. Every duty is full of surprise. Some days we have low calls, while some days are so hectic we have to eat on the go. On days we have low calls, we don’t just shake leg and wait—we do drills with trainees.
Once we receive a coding, we have one minute to reach our walkie-talkie and 11 minutes to reach the destination. Yes, even if we have explosive diarrhoea. Usually, the ambulance has to reach the destination first. Even if it’s a gory ‘Saw’ movie situation—like how a man’s leg was dangling off his body once—we have to check for signs of life.
In pregnancy cases, if the water bag bursts, the baby can be pushed out very quickly. That’s when we have to deliver before the child can be exposed to any danger.
Being a paramedic isn’t just dealing with patients; you need to handle relatives and members of the public too. There are people who don’t want to carry their patient because they think civil servants’ salaries are already paid for through taxes. And many Singaporean drivers won’t mount the curb just to give way to us, which is dangerous if our driver jam breaks.
Dealing With Patients She Cannot Save
In the beginning, it was terribly depressing because I saw death so often. But as time went by, I got immune to it. It doesn’t mean I’m heartless now—in this line, you can’t let emotions get a hold of you.
We see the mess behind mainstream news’ murder headlines. I’ve seen firemen break open doors and puke after seeing decomposed bodies. You need to have the right frame of mind to deal with such things.
As a young paramedic, it hits you when you can’t save someone, but mentors are always there to help and console you.
Starting With No Experience
I’ve always loved helping people since young, so I guess it’s inborn. When I was in Polytechnic, I studied mechanical engineering. But when I took a part-time job in the clinic dispensing medicine to patients, it sparked my interest in the medical line. I spoke to a doctor friend and he urged me to join SCDF.
SCDF paramedics attend to first-hand emergency cases for civilians, while SAF medics are trained to save fellow mates in war. With zero experience in biology, I signed on and spent 1.5 years of training in SCDF. Despite how tough it can be, I’ve never regretted a single day for 9 years.
We once picked up a man who told us “there’s someone in front of me” when there was no one there. Another man, who was just released from prison, said: “I hear voices, please handcuff me or I’m going to kill someone.”
I’ve met poor elderly people living in 1-room flats who love to go to the hospital because they’re lonely and want the attention. One old man, who had both his legs amputated, would ask us to carry him to the toilet as he had no strength.
There’s one regular caller I’d never forget. He’d sit at a playground near Sin Ming Industrial estate Sector A, and call us 3 times a week to complain about chest pains. Every time we met him, he’d happily sing Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” When I heard of his passing recently, it made me feel a little sad.
Handling Patients Who Attempt Suicide
There was a man who cut his wrist and attempted suicide at a factory near Kallang. We ran all over the place and found him sitting on a ledge, listening to a sad mandarin song.
In such situations, we’re not allowed to approach them directly lest they panic and pull us down together. Hence, we activated the fire department, rescue team and police, and monitored his movements. He eventually locked himself in the toilet for 2 hours.
Best Part of Work
I love delivering babies. When you hear that loud cry, especially in an emergency situation, everything just stops for a brief second. Or when patients go into cardiac arrest and you bring them back to life.
There are relatives of patients who tell us, “Thank you so much to you and your crew. You guys did a good job.” Doctors in Tan Tock Seng or Changi General Hospital have also praised us for moments when the patient could not have survived without pre-hospital resuscitation.
But we’re human too. There are some days when I don’t feel like working due to the sheer number of calls. However, my colleagues, the small Emergency Medical Specialist department, grew to be a family to me. Therefore, work can be fun albeit challenging.
Advice For Future Paramedics
You can either call Singaporeans kiasi or over-caring because we get a lot of calls regarding drunkards who sleep on the streets because they “seem to be dead.” You may even deal with painful things like watching a mother cry because she accidentally suffocated her baby in her sleep.
Being a paramedic isn’t just a job, but an entire dedication to a life like this round the clock. On some off days, I have to be on standby. So when people are on medical leave, I’ll be called back. When I’m a normal human being, I’ll hit the gym or go for dragon boat training.
But if you’ve got the passion and the heart, nothing is impossible. Your fellow mentors and colleagues will help you. SCDF also sends paramedics to advance courses and degrees. This life has become an integral part of me, and I won’t be giving it up anytime soon.