“The Kusoldharm has 12 ambulances, which serve three areas – Patong, Muang Mai, and Thalang,” he told The Phuket News.
“Staff are on 24 hour standby, but sometimes it’s not enough. That’s why the foundation needs volunteers like me.”
In order to fund his volunteer work, Mr Chukiat works at a computer company during the day.
“When I help, I do it with my heart. I stand by from 8pm to 2am in the morning every day, and then wake up at 7am to go to work.”
“Many want to work for the Kusoldharm Foundation, but they have to wait for a vacancy. That’s why they become volunteers instead, as they can start work immediately. There are a lot of volunteers here, but those who volunteer for more than a decade, like me, are rare.”
Mr Chukiat was inspired to become a volunteer after a motorcycle accident he had in Chiang Mai back in 1995.
The accident, in which he broke his leg and almost lost his big toe, happened in front of a private hospital.
“A nurse from the hospital came out and asked me if I had insurance with the hospital. But when I told her I didn’t, she walked back and left me there.”
Eventually, a rescue vehicle from the Ruam Jai Foundation arrived on the scene and took him to another hospital. Mr Chukiat was grateful to and impressed by the rescue team.
After that, he started helping accident victims in need. Whenever he came across an accident scene, he would stop to alert police or rescue units, sometimes even using his own car to block the road to prevent other vehicles from colliding with the victims.
“That’s how I got started.” he said.
In 2000, he moved from Chiang Mai to Phuket to work for a computer firm.
“I didn’t get properly involved in rescuing until the 2004 tsunami happened. I helped my brother-in-law distribute donated clothes and food to victims in Phang Nga. That’s when I started to think that I should join a rescue team.”
He started thinking more seriously about joining a team, and applied to the Kusoldham Foundation, but as an unpaid volunteer, unlike regular staff who earn a salary.
In 2008, he decided to buy a secondhand pick-up (Izuzu Victor 3) to use as a rescue vehicle.
Mr Chukiat told The Phuket News that people who want to join the Kusoldharm Foundation are asked two questions – if they’re afraid of blood – and ghosts.
The reason for the latter is that vehicles don’t only transport injured people, but also dead bodies in all states and conditions.
“At first, I was a little bit terrified of blood... but actually something that’s more disgusting is splattered brains, like when a person’s head’s is hit by an eighteen-wheel truck,” he describes.
Despite the unpleasantness, he collects every body part and piece of the victim scattered at an accident scene.
“I care about the feelings of the deceased’s relatives. If I was the relative of the dead person, I would want to get every piece and part of my relative back.
“Thai people believe that if you don’t take every part of the body back, the person will remain there as a ghost. So whatever it is – blood, pieces of bone, brain, we will clear everything.
“We never leave it to the Provincial Public Health Office to send people to clean up a blood spill. Usually, we will take soil beside the road to bury it [the cleaned up blood]. We don’t want other people to feel bad when seeing blood.”
Asked about rumoured cases of rescue volunteers or staff taking advantage of victim’s relatives by asking for excessive amount of reimbursement to transport victims, Mr Chukiat clarifies.
“I’ve never taken advantage of anyone like this. Sometimes we must take a corpse to their home, or we are asked to transport an injured person to get medical care in their hometown – which can be up to 300km away.
“We will ask for reimbursement for petrol and use of the vehicle, about B10-15 per kilometre, and if it’s very far, some money for food during the transfer. This depends on the agreement with the relatives, and is negotiable.
“Sometimes, if we see that the relatives are poor, we ask only for petrol allowance. That’s all. But for normal cases, like taking people to a hospital in town, that’s free. I pay my own money for the petrol.”
Indeed, Mr Chukiat has always paid out of his own pocket. In addition to using his own truck, he also pays for a radio set used to communicate with the Foundation, vehicle maintenance costs, and medical equipment such as an oxygen mask, and splints for legs and arms.
Some equipment is supplied by the Foundation – the oxygen tank was donated by a person who had lost their relative, while the ambulance bed came from a doctor at Thalang Hospital.
The rescue vehicles must be checked regularly by the Kusoldharm Foundation and Phuket Provincial Public Health Office, but Mr Chukiat’s truck would always raise warning flags every time he took it to be inspected.
“The roof is too low, making it difficult to set up some equipment like a phlegm suction device or ambulance bed... and difficult to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).”
His truck, which is 16 years-old now and has been used constantly for rescuing people for the last seven, breaks down regularly and is currently in the garage, indefinitely.
“After colliding with a boulder on the side of a road recently, I brought it to my regular mechanic, Jutha “Ko Tik” Tiansukon, at a garage near Super Cheap on Thepkrasattri Rd.
When it became apparent that his old pickup was going to be difficult to fix, Ko Tik showed him a used van and asked if he wanted to convert it into an ambulance.
“I said yes almost immediately... It would be great if he could give me the van for free, but if not, I will sell the old car to get some money and pay the rest monthly to the garage. It should cost me about B70,000-80,000.”
However, the conversion from ordinary van to life-saving ambulance is going to take time and money, especially work on the interior, which he has already started. Apart from this, he also has to equip it with a siren and spotlights, which won’t be cheap.
To help raise funds for the project, Mr Chukiat is now selling “Support Ambulance” T-shirts and mugs on his Facebook page: facebook.com/pages/กูคนกู้ภัย-กุศลธรรม-ภูเก็ต-FC/261900913819944.
Anyone interested can make an order by sending Mr Chukiat a Facebook message, by calling him on 080 041 5959 (Thai-only), or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.