T HE Phnom Penh fire department is set to improve its ailing services to the
capital, following the purchase of six new fire trucks from
Phnom Penh Fire Extinguishing Office chief Suon Sopheak said
the department was entering a new era, following the official handing over of
the fire engines on Mar 15.
The city's 45 firefighters used to rely on seven dilapidated fire engines
donated by the former Soviet Union in the early 1980s.
"They have all
broken down. We can't use them satisfactorily."
The fire office had one
other engine, donated last year by Japanese bridge constructors, but that was
not enough to be effective.
Phnom Penh firefighters have worked for many
years under constant criticism over poor service and alleged corruption.
They have often been accused of trying to extort money from fire victims
to do their job, with priority service given to those who greased their
Soun Sopheak referred to a host of other reasons why the fire
service had been inadequate.
The biggest problem, he said, was the poor
communication between the fire unit and people needing its services.
local residents did not have telephones, and often fires burned for some time
before firefighters were alerted.
"Sometimes people ride on motorcycles
to tell us of fires...it's too late."
Communication was also bad between
firefighters, who had only one telephone and two radios to contact each other
The seven Russian fire engines, meanwhile, usually broke down after
one or two runs.
Until recently, there was also only one place in Phnom
Penh equipped to fill up the engines with water, making for slow work in
Suon Sopheak said the department now had two other water
sources, and the new fire engines were a big boost.
The old Russian
trucks could carry up to 2,300 liters while the new trucks had 4,000 liter water
"If we had had these trucks before, we would have been able save
much of the Bassac theater," he said, recalling one of Phnom Penh's biggest
fires, early last year.
He said only three of the six fire engines on
standby at the time of that fire had been able to work, with
The first fire engine at the scene reportedly took half an
hour to arrive.
Soun Sopheak said the fire service was also hopeful that
a proposal for Japan to donate four more fire engines will go ahead. The
department can be contacted on the telephone number 23555, or by dialing 18 on