A day out with Sawang Boriboon rescue unit

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The radio control room of the rescue unit.
The radio control room of the rescue unit.

I had always known a little about the Sawang Boriboon Thammasathan Foundation, the closest thing Pattaya has to a proper ambulance service. But I learned a lot more after spending a day with its rescuers.

Sawang Boriboon no longer is comprised only of volunteers and is now a force of 500 strong. With the help of British expat John Williams and his wife Jo, both of whom are volunteers, I put on my honorary consul hat and had them show me around.

HQ is a temple

When you enter their location at the Chinese temple in Naklua, you will notice how large it is, with the Chinese influence prominent throughout. The foundation was formed as a Chinese-Thai organization in 1948 by Pai Wun Sibunlueng, a Chinese national, to assist the growing number of immigrant laborers in the area.

If any fell ill or died with no family here, the foundation would take care of them or pay for their funerals. The foundation today remains a non-profit organization and helps countless sick, poor, aged and infirmed. It also provides the Sawang Rescue Services, which is what most foreigners refer to.

Over the years, the Sawang Boriboon organization has not only spread to cover 59 other areas in Thailand, but also has grown in Pattaya, with 500 personnel who provide their time, vehicles and equipment.

Apparel and equipment used by the rescue teams in land and sea operations.
Apparel and equipment used by the rescue teams in land and sea operations.

There are six fully equipped ambulances and one rescue vehicle based at the foundation, as well as a marine-rescue boat at Bali Hai Pier that operates with paid, full-time staffers around the clock.

All the staff are trained to one of three levels: emergency first response, emergency medical response or, the highest level, emergency medical technician. All the ambulances have an EMT on board. These teams, along with the rescue vehicle, are normally on the scene before any other service.

Bert Elson (right) speaks to John and Jo Williams and Prasit Thongthitcharoen (2nd right) chairman of the Sawang Boriboon Thammasathan Foundation.
Bert Elson (right) speaks to John and Jo Williams and Prasit Thongthitcharoen (2nd right) chairman of the Sawang Boriboon Thammasathan Foundation.

I often wondered who decided which hospital you are taken to if you are involved in an accident. The answer is that it’s your choice if you are able to decide. If not, you’re taken to the closest facility that can deal with your injuries.

I also wanted to know how all this is paid for. The answer is here by donations made by individual and companies. Teams travel to anywhere in Thailand to assist in all types of disasters, carrying everything they need with them.

The well-stocked marine rescue unit store.
The well-stocked marine rescue unit store.

To the rescue

Toward the end of my tour, a call came in for an ambulance for an accident in East Pattaya. I went along and motorbike medics already were on scene when we arrived 10 minutes later. These are the first responders who provide immediate care or can cancel a call if necessary.

This accident involved a young Thai woman who had hit a pickup side-on. She likely had a broken leg and dislocated shoulder.

The ambulances are equipped with basic and advanced life support equipment.
The ambulances are equipped with basic and advanced life support equipment.

The team soon had supports pumped up around her leg and strapped her to a board and had her to the emergency room of Pattaya Hospital within 20 minutes.

Volunteer rescue units around Thailand get plenty of bad press, but times have changed. They may not be doctors, but they sustain life until patients can get to the hospital, whether it be from a crash site or your home.

There are two numbers you can call, 1669, the national hotline that will transfer you to the local office, and, in Pattaya, 038-222-474 directly. English speakers are not always available, so it’s best to have a Thai-speaker call.

After an exciting day out in the field, we pose for a photo with a foundation official.
After an exciting day out in the field, we pose for a photo with a foundation official.
The fire and medical rescue ambulance ready for all emergencies.
The fire and medical rescue ambulance ready for all emergencies.