From Driver to First Responder: How Lifelong Learning Changed The Life of One Taxi Driver

By October 1, 2021Current

TL;DR – With a curious mind and an open heart, Kirsty found ways to improve herself, even as the pandemic continues to keep passengers away.

There were 7,822 road traffic accidents in Singapore in 2019, which averages out to about one accident every hour out there on the road. Having driven a taxi for seven years with ComfortDelGro, Kirsty Foo, 61, has unfortunately seen her fair share of such accidents. She was never personally involved in any of them, nor was she ever the first person on the scene. However, even if she was, there were few things she could have done beyond calling for an ambulance and waiting for help to arrive. All that changed when she and 59 other drivers from ComfortDelGro took part in a first-aid training course in early 2021. Just like that, more than just a taxi driver, Kirsty had a new title: first responder.

The first-aid training was but one of many courses that Kirsty took up over the years. With a curious mind and an open heart, she’s found ways to  improve herself, even as the pandemic continues to keep passengers away. The following is her story of kindness, curiosity and a thirst to go above and beyond for the community.

A desire to learn

Driving a taxi was not part of Kirsty’s plans. Before her current career, Kirsty worked as a Sales Coordinator for a UK-based multinational technology company. Instead of selling the company’s products, however, her role was mainly to organise large-scale events, which meant that she was unfamiliar with the concept of ‘free time’. Weekdays and weekends blended together, and it was considered a good day at work if she could leave the office before sundown. In the days and weeks leading up to major events, Kirsty and her team would often work overtime just to make sure the events happened without a hitch.

Kirsty didn’t mind the long hours. The reason for her career switch, however, was a personal one. “My father, who was about 88 years old at the time, was diagnosed with dementia,” Kirsty shares. “I was the only one who could take care of him, but my job at the time meant that I was working 8–10 hours a day, and I couldn’t be there for him.” Kirsty needed a job that afforded her a more flexible schedule and the ability to drop by her father’s home as and when she was needed.

Kirsty with her dad

 

It was also around this time when Kirsty developed an eye issue that had to be operated on. Most people would have taken the doctor’s advice and luxuriated at home for two straight months — but not Kirsty. She, being the curious type, couldn’t sit still for long. “I decided to do something light, to learn something while I was recovering at home,” she says. “That’s when I decided to take the Taxi Driver’s Vocational Licence (TDVL) course and try driving a taxi. Ever her enterprising self, instead of spending two months watching Netflix, Kirsty went to school.

Two days and 25 hours of intense training later, Kirsty was officially a taxi driver for ComfortDelGro.

A sense of wonder

Kirsty’s desire to learn new skills did not come from nowhere. For her, learning and a sense of curiosity have always come second nature. “I like to learn, I like to see, I like to be hands-on with what I do,” she explains. Over the years, Kirsty has taken up other courses that piqued her interest as well, including one about digital technologies (“How to download apps, how to use apps, etc”), as well as a leadership course organised by NTUC (“I especially liked the course about customer service!”).

What truly made a difference, however, were the self-improvement courses, namely those organised by AsiaWorks and MiracleLife, which she signed up for even before she began driving. These organisations offer several programmes, but they largely revolve around personal growth, developing self-awareness, leadership, teamwork, as well as communication.

This last point came in handy for Kirsty, which she’s been able to apply to her current job as a taxi driver. She recalls an incident when she first started driving a taxi when she picked up a female passenger whose destination was in an area of Singapore Kirsty was not familiar with. “I was so green at the time. Aside from Jurong and Queenstown, I didn’t know how to go anywhere,” she explains. Kirsty made it clear to the passenger that she didn’t know the place, but was happy to take directions. When the meter ticked past S$17, the passenger accused Kirsty of taking the long way round. “I very calmly told her that, in training, we did not learn the routes. We learnt about safety.”

Having taken so much away from these personal growth courses, Kirsty felt a need to pay it forward. “I learnt about myself [through these] self-improvement classes. That’s why I would like to give back to whatever people who’ve helped me. Now, if I can help, I help. It’s like community service for me.” It is this desire that motivates her to ensure the safety of her passengers — especially lone female passengers travelling home late at night. In fact, Kirsty always makes sure that these passengers reach their doorsteps or at least the elevators before leaving. The first-aid training course, too, was part of her desire to help those in need.

Reporting for duty

The pandemic has been hard for taxi drivers with fewer passengers across the board. Grants from the Government have helped Kirsty cover at least part of her rental fees, but what’s truly keeping her chin up is the fact that she is now officially a first responder. In fact, all 60 participants of the first-aid training now have a special app on their phone, which will notify them of emergencies within a specific radius. That way, instead of waiting for the ambulance to arrive, taxi drivers like Kirsty will be able to attend to casualties on the scene — even save lives.

Even though the app has yet to ping Kirsty about a nearby emergency, she’s more than ready to step up. Between herself and the front passenger seat is a defibrillator, which she learnt how to operate with aplomb. Participants also learnt how to perform basic first-aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR. “It’s all about the practise!” Kirsty reveals.

When asked if she had trouble keeping to the proper rhythms of a CPR, she was more than confident about her newfound abilities. “It’s not too difficult,” she said “I just follow my own heart.”

The National Trades Union Congress and the National Taxi Association (NTA) are working together with the Government to support taxi drivers like Kirsty during the pandemic period. Those looking to upskill themselves like Kirsty also have the option to do so. NTUC LearningHub’s Security Academy provides a comprehensive range of training courses, from basic to advanced security skills and certification, for those new to the industry.

 

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