SINGAPORE – During a maintenance check, a technician failed to ensure that a water pump could readily supply water to hose reels in case of a fire at a housing block in Bukit Batok.

His negligence delayed rescue efforts during a deadly blaze that broke out within a month, on Nov 1, 2019, as no water could be dispensed from the reels.

Firefighters scrambled to use their own water jets instead. The incident resulted in the death of a resident, and hospitalised two others.

During investigations, the technician, Malaiyappan Mayalagu, 51, sneaked into the pump room to reset the water pump to auto to hide his mistake.

On Friday, Malaiyappan, who is from India, was fined $2,700 after he pleaded guilty to endangering human life by a negligent act and tampering with evidence.

The court heard that he worked as a technician with J. Keart Alliances, a firm that was engaged by Jurong-Clementi Town Council to do fire protection system works.

His role was to conduct monthly water pump checks at the roof top of Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21. He had to set the pump to auto mode when he was done, so that water could be supplied to hose reels during a fire, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Sean Teh.

But he set the pump to manual, which required a user to push a button in the pump room in order for water to be dispensed.

At 4.30am on Nov 1, a fire broke out at a unit on level 13. Some residents of the block tried to access the fire hose reels but the cabinets were padlocked.

Police officers evacuated some 70 residents. Firefighters came and used a bolt cutter to cut the padlock but found that no water could be dispensed.

More firefighters arrived and set up two hose line jets outside the unit as an alternative, using water from a dry riser.

Another officer tried to activate the hose reels again, turning on the valve, but still found that no water could be dispensed. At the time, water jets were ready to be used and the flames were extinguished by 5.15am.