The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has admitted budget constraints are keeping the city’s fire stations from expanding and standing in the way of recruiting more firefighters.
The issue came to light following complaints from firefighters that they have been working long hours without overtime.
On Tuesday, Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt said he has assigned his deputy, Thawida Kamolvej, to look into the issue.
He said he understood that the issue arose from firefighters being subject to long shifts. Regulations stipulate that they may work up to three straight shifts of eight hours each before taking one shift off.
However, the opening of more fire stations is putting a strain on manpower since no new firefighters are being hired due to a lack of budget funds, according to Mr Chadchart.
The BMA workforce is managed by the BMA Civil Service Commission (CSC).
The governor said it is possible the CSC may be unaware of the need to increase employment of firefighters.
He conceded that there is a shortage of firefighters, and the BMA was trying to recruit more. From what he knew, on a number of occasions volunteers had needed to be brought in to assist the fire brigade.
Mr Chadchart added that the capital was lagging behind other major cities in terms of available fire stations. Although some new stations are being built, they are not keeping up with the fast-expanding metropolis.
“We’re stuck with a legal ceiling where the cost of wages among those employed by the BMA cannot exceed 40% of its overall budget. And we’re nearly there,” he said.
“That’s why employment has to be handled carefully.”
Ms Thawida will figure out where the budget spending could be streamlined. In some areas of the workforce, technology will replace people and enhance working efficiency. In some positions, vacancies left by retired staff will not be filled.
Theerayut Phumsak, the BMA’s director of the Bureau of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, said Bangkok currently runs 41 fire stations and 7-8 sub-stations employing a total of 2,200 staff.
He said the numbers of both stations and firefighters had fallen below standards, which may affect the city’s emergency response capability.
The director explained that firefighting teams should be able to reach a fire location within eight minutes of being dispatched from their station. In practice, this may be achievable in areas in inner Bangkok, but in outer zones such as Nong Chok, Min Buri and Lat Krabang, it might take longer.
This eight-minute maximum is even less achievable in rush-hour traffic, he said, adding that the bureau had advised the Bangkok governor that if the eight-minute goal was to be realised, at least 14 new stations must be added.
He said Mr Chadchart recognises the problem although he has run into budget hurdles.
Until the financial problem can be sorted out, the bureau has resorted to having the firefighters working longer workers without overtime.