Senior instructor and firefighter Rennysa Ithnin, 39, has been with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) for over 16 years, yet when she reveals her occupation to new acquaintances, it is almost always met with a mix of surprise and curiosity!
“They’ll ask me, ‘You can carry the hose?’” Rennysa said with a laugh.
Rennysa doesn’t look like the typical firefighter. For starters, we rarely see women in this line of work. Rennysa shared that when she was undergoing her initial training with SCDF in 2002, she was the only female out of the 35 trainees in her batch. Furthermore, Rennysa is naturally smaller in frame than most, and this contributed to the initial scepticism that most people have when they learn that Rennysa is a firefighter.
Rennysa first toyed with the idea of joining SCDF at a career fair before she graduated with a diploma in mechatronics. While most of her peers went on to become technicians in related fields or pursue further studies, Rennysa did something completely different. Inspired by the prospect of potentially saving lives and the scope of work involved, she decided to join SCDF.
“When my friends heard about my decision, a lot of them were like, ‘Do you even know what a firefighter’s job is like in the first place?’” recalled Rennysa. Describing herself as somebody who loves staying at home and seldom spends time outside, she shared that it truly was a big step out of her comfort zone for her when she joined SCDF. Even her mother was unsure about Rennysa’s choice of vocation.
“My mum was like, ‘You sure you can leave home without your mom’s cooking?’” said Rennysa. “And I told her that I would try.”
Rennysa, in front of a Light Fire Attack Vehicle (LFAV) in 2013, more commonly known as a Red Rhino. Photo courtesy of Rennysa Ithnin
During her six-month training period, Rennysa found herself struggling with the physical nature of the job.
“In the beginning, there were all guys when you turn left or right,” shared Rennysa. “And they were much younger than I was, because most of them were serving their National Service. When we were doing any kind of physical activity, or IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test), I was always the last.”
However, her peers were encouraging, and helped her in every way possible to reach her goals. “They were all very helpful – they would follow me to make sure that I ran before lights [are turned] off, that I challenged myself – just so I could do better the next round.”
Rennysa (second row, sixth from left) with her colleagues at Sengkang Fire Station in 2004. Photo courtesy of Rennysa Ithnin
Rennysa became a mother herself in 2006, and now has three children, aged between four and 11. However, Rennysa shared that her dedication to her job, even with kids, has not wavered.
“I’m like this: when I put on my uniform, I’m a totally different person,” explained Rennysa. With a laugh, she continued, “If there’s a cockroach now, I can just step on it. But if I’m [not in my uniform] at home, I’ll tell my husband, ‘Eh, there’s a cockroach in the toilet, can you do something about it?’”
“Which is why when people see that I’m small-sized and say, ‘You sure you can do all these things that a firefighter is required to do?’, I’ll say yes, because when you’re in your gear, you really are another person.”
As a parent, Rennysa shared that one of her most memorable assignments was one that involved witnessing a father crying after [he realised that] his own kids were trapped in a car.
“In 2012, or 2013, I attended to this call and the incident was at a multi-storey car park,” began Rennysa. “We went to the location, parked our Red Rhino outside, and went up.”
“When I went up, I heard some commotion,” continued Rennysa. “Two kids, around ages three to five, were trapped inside a car – one in the passenger seat, and the other behind [in the back seat]. I don’t know why, but the keys were [in a handbag] inside the car, and it was automatically locked. Nobody could open the door and get the kids out.”
“I saw the father outside with red eyes, and the grandparents,” recounted Rennysa. “The father was asking me what the best possible way was to open [the car doors] and rescue the kids. I could see that the father was already going to tear [up].”
“I managed to make a small hole through the window, and grabbed the handbag. After we opened the door, it was really memorable because the father was really crying when he pulled his kids out. It was as if he hadn’t seen his kids for very long.”
At that moment, as Rennysa was already a parent of two then, she shared that the heart-warming sight made her reflect and think about her role as a firefighter, and as a mother as well.
Rennysa sharing her knowledge with participants at a course. Photo by: Chan Kar Leng
Today, Rennysa is a Senior Instructor in the Civil Defence Academy’s Hazardous Materials (HazMat) Branch. With all her years of experience in the field, she shared that at the end of the day, it truly doesn’t matter if you’re a male or a female and fighting fires to save lives in the SCDF.
“After a while, when I got to know my peers and their motivations, I realised that your gender doesn’t make a difference in the job,” said Rennysa. “The only advice I have for fellow females who want to join this profession is to have perseverance and determination.”
Written by: FJ Sai
This blogpost is part of the Red Dot Stories campaign