(AFP) – Apr 17, 2008
BANGKOK (AFP) — When Sergeant Pichet Visetchote transferred into a special division of Thailand's traffic police, he assumed his job would involve handing out tickets -- not, as it's turned out, delivering babies.
The most recent of the 14 babies he has delivered was Rungarun -- whose name means "morning" in Thai -- a girl delivered in a pickup truck that was stuck in one of Bangkok's notorious traffic jams on the way to hospital.
Indeed, officers in Pichet's division have no authority to issue tickets but when Bangkok traffic grinds to a halt, as it does for much of each day, they can slip through on their motorcycles to fix cars, help the sick and deliver babies.
"It's the perfect job," said 37-year-old Pichet. "The police do not only enforce the law, we have a duty to help people."
The Royal Traffic Police Project, one of six traffic police divisions in the capital, was set up in 1993 with a broad mission to help people stranded in the traffic. Over time delivering babies has become its speciality.
Officers in Bangkok have delivered 81 babies over the last 10 years and cleared traffic to escort hundreds of women in labour, police records show.
Pichet holds second place for the most deliveries, coming in behind a fellow officer who has helped with the arrival of 18 babies.
Pichet's deliveries haven't suffered any complications, but he admits he still gets nervous.
His first emergency call came two months after he completed his training, he said, and he found the surgical gloves in his kit bag were so slippery he feared he might drop the baby.
"It was very exciting," he said. "But I knew the survival of the baby depended on me."
Suranetr Jongnomklang, a 27-year-old department store saleswoman, said she had been relieved to see the police arrive when she went into labour in February on the back seat of a taxi.
"I don't remember much because I was in pain," she said. "But I feel happy there were police there who knew how to help a mother in labour."
The 145 officers in the division receive a couple days of medical training every three months at private and state hospitals, where they can practice deliveries using dolls, said division chief Colonel Akekachai Pruchyawithirat.
Each officer's motorcycle is equipped with a first aid kit that includes a baby blanket, a tie for the umbilical cord and a hand pump to help newborns with their breathing.
On any given day, five teams of two officers stake out the highways waiting for emergency calls.
"The other policeman will help the traffic jam because people always stop by to watch whether the baby is a boy or a girl," Akekachai said.
Other rubber-neckers want to write down the license plate number of the mother's taxi or car, which some Thais think will guarantee a lottery win, Akekachai said.
The programme began in 1993 with a royal grant of 11 million baht (435,000 dollars), and was originally meant to help police ease congestion, Akekachai said.
"Giving people new life is one of the most important things."
Akekachai said he sees the police project as a chance for Thai police to make a positive connection with the people they serve, and added that he doesn't want police to be known only for fines and arrests.
The existence of the unit shouldn't lead people to treat it like a dial-up midwife service and not take necessary precautions, Pichet said, as the back seat of a car is hardly the ideal place to give birth.
And if he ever has children, he says, he'll leave the delivery to his wife and a doctor.
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