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Expert explains changes needed

H undreds of homes could have been saved and the fire at Deum Chahn brought under

control in 30 minutes if the city's fire brigade had up-to-date equipment, a

leading Australian fire expert has said.

Frederick Longman, a rescue and

fire fighting consultant for 30 years, said the city's fire brigade needed a

complete overhaul.

"A survey of the fire department should be done to

assess how many trucks and firemen are needed and what they would cost," he

said.

"Fire fighting is a very expensive insurance program. The first

thing that has to be done here is to take the fire service away from under the

Police Department's jurisdiction.

"Aid should be sought from

organizations such as Overseas Development Association to build up the

service."

Longman, who has been setting up fire precautions at Pochentong

airport, said small fire stations should be built in every community and used

for rapid intervention in an emergency.

"Larger trucks from main fire

stations would be used as backup. This would provide the basis of a national

fire service."

He said it was unlikely an adequate hydrant system would

be installed in Phnom Penh in the next five years.

"As a consultant, I

would be prepared to conduct a survey and to give free advice to the government

on setting up a basic three-month training course for staff, to be taught in

English and Khmer."

In January 1993, Longman visited the police

department, which is responsible for fire fighting, to offer his

assistance.

During discussions with the Fire Commissioner Major Ei Kret

he noted that of 10 fire vehicles providing cover for Phnom Penh, only four were

operational but could only respond if sufficient fuel was available.

In

a report prepared for the Department of Civil Aviation in 1993, he said the City

Fire Department's training facilities were "extremely limited".

"Hospital emergency facilities are limited and little or no

infrastructure exists to handle the number of casualties likely to require

emergency treatment."

He pointed out that most of the city's modern

hotels did not have proper fire-fighting equipment or fire escapes.

While

new vehicles are needed urgently, Longman said other equipment including

protective clothing and "proximity" suits which allow fire fighters to get close

to the blaze, were also required. Currently, firemen wear only trousers and

flip-flops.

One witness at the Deum Chahn fire told how bowls of water

had to be thrown over the firemen to keep them cool.

Longman also

suggested the country establish a list of minimum safety requirements based on

guidelines set out by the National Fire Protection Association of America, which

gives worldwide standards.

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