Thailand’s Fire Trucks Cost Big Bucks
In her recent trip to Bangkok, Automologist LING came across one of Thailand’s controversial mini fire trucks, as another fire truck scandal from a decade ago comes to a conclusion.
As we were walking down a street in Bangkok (from one food stop to another – the best kind of holiday) my Thai friend and host pointed out what looked like a cute little truck in front of the fire station (above). It didn’t look like it was capable of running over a dog, much less putting out fires, but Bangkok actually has a number of narrow alleyways that can only be traversed by smaller vehicles.
But these mini fire trucks have been a controversial addition to the city’s fire-fighting fleet. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) bought 20 of them back in 2013 for 160 million baht; that’s about US$230,000 each. The cost of the all-terrain vehicles that form the base of the trucks are only 2.5 million baht (US$72,000) each. To add fuel to the fire (couldn’t help the pun), they are left-hand drive vehicles, which raises questions of its road-legality and do the firemen really need another challenge while they are trying to get to the burning building as fast as possible; the fire extinguishers on the truck also cost three times more than market price.
A probe into the seemingly overpriced procurement is expected to be completed soon, but the governor has defended the decision, saying that they were in no position to negotiate a right-hand drive version from the German manufacturer, considering the small volume purchase, and that the trucks have been used to put out three to four fires a day since they came into service.
Overpriced fire-fighting vehicles have a precedent in Bangkok. More than a decade ago, 315 fire trucks, 30 fire boats and fire-fighting equipment were bought from an Austrian supplier for 6.6 billion baht (about US$189 million), but investigation into price collusion meant that the trucks were impounded and left in storage, only to fall into disrepair over time. But leaving the vehicles idle cost the city a lot of money. At one point, it was in legal dispute with the warehouse firm for the accumulated rent of 900 million baht (US$26 million).
After the case came to a conclusion in the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in Geneva last year, the city has decided to put the trucks to work. But first, each of them has to undergo repairs, costing 200,000 to 300,000 baht each (US$5,700 to US$8,600). The first lot of 35 trucks will be seen hitting the streets of Bangkok soon.