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Firefighters given boost of new trucks

Firefighters given boost of new trucks

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

Singapore.

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

palms.

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.

Most

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

with.

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

fighting fires.

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

tanks.

"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

difficulty.

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

public telephones.

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