Shocking as they may be, these dry statistics do little to convey the gruesome reality for the emergency workers on the front line who face the daily carnage on our roads.
One such person is Pasathorn “Bomb” Suwanphahu, who has been a rescue worker for Phuket’s Kusoldharm Rescue Foundation since he was 16 years old.
The Phuket News spoke to Bomb about how he came to be a rescue worker, what it involves, and how it has affected his life and outlook.
For Bomb it was a tumultuous period in his own life that led him to the path he now follows.
After the breakdown of a youthful love affair left him heartbroken and depressed, Bomb found himself searching for something he could throw himself into to take his mind off the past and decided to apply for the job as a Kusoldharm rescue worker.
Once he started, Bomb felt like he had found his calling in helping others and giving back to the community, but despite its many rewarding aspects, the job certainly has a dark side which Bomb says has given him a new perspective on life.
“Not many people know what rescue workers have to do and face every day. Many people think that we rescue workers are apathetic to horror and death. But that is not true,” says Bomb.
“I have been working in this field for seven years and even though I have seen so many accidents and deaths, I never escape that feeling of loss. When I saw a child die, I felt it was too early for them. Their life should have been longer. They should have had more chances to do many things.
“I came back my home and cried. I felt blue for many days. My heart was broken. Many people who are good rescue workers resign because they cannot handle this feeling. For me, I still want to do this. I can still handle this. I do not want to stop doing this,” he adds.
We asked Bomb to take us through the process of responding to an emergency and some of the dangers and unexpected problems that can arise in the confusion and distress of an accident scene.
“In an emergency people can call us directly at 1669. You can call the police 191 hotline, but they will just call us anyway,” he said. (English speakers are recommended to call the Tourist Police 1155 hotline.)
“Our work starts when we receive a report from the radio centre. After we receive the report we go straight to the scene. When we arrive, our first concern is for the safety of rescue workers, if we get injured then nobody is helped, so we have to think of our own lives first. If an accident scene is at a blind curve, we will park the ambulance carefully and turn on the lights and siren so other drivers can see us working.
“When we examine people for injuries, the first thing we check is their state of consciousness. We have to quickly assess on the risk to their life and decide what equipment we should use and what is a priority. Our ambulance is equipped for basic life support, we are first responders and we do not have all the equipment a full medical ambulance has.
“If their injures are bleeding and blocking their respiratory system, we will put small pipe to suck the blood from their respiratory system first so they can breath. After that we will take them to a hospital. If their injures are more severe, we can do CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) to try to revive them and prevent brain injuries from lack of blood, while we wait for medical staff to arrive at the scene.
“Sometimes the injured person’s relatives are distressed that we take a long time to do CPR. They wonder why we don’t transfer them immediately to a hospital. The truth is that it is the only thing we can do, by law we have to wait for medical teams who have more capability to assist them.
“Many relatives expect the ambulance to take the injured to a doctor as fast as possible. So they try to rush rescue workers while we are treating the injured. They think it is better if they take them to a hospital by themselves. The truth is that we are giving essential primary medical assistance that could save their lives,” adds Bomb.
Bomb says misunderstandings like this are a common problem faced by emergency workers and at times they are even actively prevented from doing their job.
“An ambulance has priority on the road when transporting injured people, but in Phuket only about 60% of vehicles get out of the way for an ambulance. The others are in shock or they don’t know what to do and don’t know which way they have to move. Some of them do not respond at all or give any cooperation,” he says.
“Many times vehicles follow an ambulance when it runs through red lights. Once a taxi hit the back of our ambulance, so we had to call another ambulance to help the injured. Then the process starts again from the beginning and the injured have to wait.
“Sometimes we receive a report of people injured from fighting. When we get the injured people in the ambulance, their enemies will follow and block the ambulance and continue to fight. Once my shirt was cut by a man with a knife,” recalls Bomb.
Despite the many frustrations and dangers he faces on the job, Bomb has managed to take many positives and is determined to continue his work.
“Working in this field makes me more aware of life. We do not know when our last minute of life might come, our last minute to see our loved ones. I see the value of my life and of other people’s lives. It makes my family bond become stronger. The dark side of this job can also give me a bad perspective on people, but I also feel that I understand the world more through the various kinds of people I meet.
“Many people have a bad attitude towards rescue workers. I have heard rumours that some rescue workers steal injured people’s property. I don’t have any reaction or feeling toward these rumours. I believe that every occupations has both good people and bad people. Rescue workers have to be very aware and careful when they are working. To touch injured an person’s property is very dangerous. We try to avoid this and let police or nurses take care of it,” he says.
The selfless work of Bomb and his colleagues is even more incredible when you realise that it is funded entirely by donations from the public.
“We do not receive much income from this job, but we can still survive. Our salaries come from the interest on money that people donate to the shrine. Some of the donated money is also used for buying emergency equipment. It all goes to give good things back to society.
“I am happy to help people. I don’t know if others believe the same thing as me. When people are going to die the only thing they hope for is a miracle to stay alive and return back to their family. I want to be part of the miracles that can save people’s lives. In the past I was happy to do things for my family. Now, I also feel happy in helping people even if I do not know them. It is like being a person who puts gold leaf on the back of the Buddha image,” says Bomb.