If you’ve spent any length of time on Samui you’ll know that there are few roads here. The island has a 52 kilometre-long ring-road with a few other roads that feed into it, some major, but mostly not. Driving on them might appear easy, unless you have a very professional eye; everything looks sunny and tranquil on the surface with (mostly) polite, helpful drivers and rarely a honk made in anger, but the island is well in step with the nation’s appalling road safety statistics. Things could be better. At the end of April 2017, a report by The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that 5,500 motorcycle riders die each year in Thailand: 15 deaths daily across the country. These are just the deaths; there are a staggering amount of accidents which will leave one or more people injured, often shockingly so. Thailand is the most lethal country in the world when it comes to motorbikes, the second most for road deaths generally. The survey gives reasons for the accidents: sleepy drivers, drunk drivers, low awareness of road laws, and speeding. Most motorbike fatalities are due to head injuries sustained by pillion passengers, and 75% of road deaths in Thailand involve motorcycles.
Fortunately there are five hospitals on Samui and each has ambulances. However, the injured are most likely to be brought for treatment by a just a single rescue service, all staffed by volunteers. This organization is simply known as Samui Rescue. You may already have seen their vehicles speeding along the island roads, ferrying the injured to hospital.
They are based in Nathon but have various ‘branches’ on other parts of the island, particularly at black spots. This allows them to be first on the scene in 95% of cases. On average they’ll arrive in four minutes.
You may wonder what the appeal of doing this kind of work might be. The teams, who attend to grisly, traumatizing sights every single day, are tireless in their efforts. Some of them say they’re motivated by a desire to earn good karma. By helping people in this life, they hope to improve their own situation. However, for many years there have been foreign volunteers too – so the karma argument doesn’t really hold good for everyone. Volunteers – there are approximately 300 of them – come from all walks of life, and their only common factor seems to be a desire to help others. Samui Rescue has provided a completely free service on Koh Samui for well over 20 years now.
Most of the work focuses on helping those involved in traffic accidents, and the majority of these will involve at least one motorbike. Volunteers are often first on the scene, providing basic medical care to those in need, and radioing for more advanced help if needed. Most keep in touch with each other via mobile phone chat lines, and incoming details
arrive via radio. They will usually have some idea of what’s awaiting them, but details can be very sketchy. Keeping up with the island’s daily injuries is enormously difficult.
Samui Rescue volunteers work in shifts, their vehicles parked in strategic locations around the island, very often close to black spots. They wait for the radio to come to life and are on their way in seconds. Many have undergone training in basic first aid, but not all have as yet. They would like to receive better training and better equipment too.
They have undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives already, simply by getting victims to hospital in time. Unfortunately, when it comes to many road accidents, there is often little that can be done by anyone. Just to take two examples, documented by Samui Rescue themselves: in a head-on motorbike collision, the person wearing a helmet walked away, able to refuse all treatment. The other party, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, suffered head injuries that caused his death. In a similar accident, a man driving at five kph died when he was knocked off his bike and his head hit the ground. The other rider had merely given his bike a glancing blow while driving at some 20 kph. Again, he survived thanks to a helmet. The volunteers never become immune to what they see, and acknowledge that devastating as these accidents are, most could be very easily avoided.
Samui Rescue can be seen as part of other rescue organizations in Thailand which do identical work. Such organizations were initially active in helping the poor bury their dead, but their focus has grown steadily to encompass more or less every kind of rescue work. Volunteers on Samui buy their own essentials, such as uniforms and radios and donate huge amounts of time. Being a volunteer is an arduous experience calling for strength, flexibility and being able to make the
right decision in seconds.
It’s often dangerous work. Attending to an accident is its own risk. Imagine kneeling over a victim, who may be in the middle of the road, while traffic manoeuvres around you, less than a metre away. Now add in the factor that it may be night and the accident area may be experiencing a downpour. Visibility will be greatly impaired. Rescue workers aren’t always called out to car accidents. Often they’re headed to the beach in order to save someone from drowning or take
care of someone who has been brought out of the sea unconscious. Drownings are quite common on Samui, and even the strongest swimmers can find themselves battling against insurmountable currents. Samui Rescue is there to help out.
They also intervene in domestic accidents of all kinds and in looking for missing people. And then there’s the odd birth too. Recently, a couple were on the way to hospital and were on a narrow country lane in Maenam when the baby decided not to wait. The delivery was successful – Samui Rescue was quickly on the scene.
Meanwhile you might be wondering how you can help. The best way is to help Samui Rescue cut down on its work. The fewer accidents they have to attend to, the better. If you’re a holidaymaker, please don’t hire a motorbike. Many an experienced motorcyclist who comes to Samui on holiday takes one look at the road and decides not to hire a bike – despite having the experience and the qualifications. If you decide to go ahead, be aware that other motorcyclists will pull out from turnings without looking and also drive on the wrong side of the road. Scary? You bet. You and your passengers all should wear helmets, even if locals and foreign residents don’t. The list continues. Never ever drink and drive. And equally, drive at a speed that is appropriate for the road conditions – which is often well under the limits imposed. Watch out for patches of sand and anything that might cause you to skid.
Samui Rescue is always ready to help you and, of course, for free. But this is one holiday experience you’ll want to avoid – amazing as this service is and the people who run it, 24/7.
For further information, telephone 0 7742 1444.