Ten houses near the Olympic Stadium burned to the ground on Aug. 18 as firemen watched
on, refusing to help unless they were paid, residents of the second Toul Svey Prey
The first firemen reached the scene almost one hour after the blaze began but upon
arriving did nothing, saying they had mechanical problems with their fire fighting
Residents dismissed the claims as a pretext to extort money from them. One woman,
who declined to be identified, said, she gave a necklace and a ring to firemen in
order to protect her house from the approaching fire.
Mao Reng, 32, complained the firemen stood idly by and watched the blaze engulf his
house. "I'm very angry with this attitude. I know what they wanted, but I didn't
have any money on hand. If I had, I would have given them something," he said.
Mao was still forced to pay 600,000 riels to private water trucks after they put
out the lingering fire.
Deputy-Chief of Fire Department Prak Saphat, said the firemen's problems with the
equipment were genuine. He denied the officers had demanded money, claiming that
sometimes grateful residents gave them gifts for extinguishing fires.
"It was a faulty battery, and they also had to wait for orders from their commander
on where they should spray first," he said. Saphat said the firemen were further
hindered by the decrepit state of the brigade's seven Soviet-made fire trucks which
he said were "on their death bed".
Prak complained the government had ignored his appeals for new equipment.
"What are we going to do?, we have no equipment, we don't even have diesel fuel
for the trucks," he said adding that they were filled up only in case of emergencies.
Nobody was hurt in the fire, which police estimated caused about $70,000 worth of
damage. Plice attributed the cause of the fire to Mrs. Kim Sim Leng, 35, who they
said an accident while using gasoline to cook with.