Viet Nam News
With a passion for machines and engineering, Nguyễn Cao Thượng, a 51-year-old mechanic from the southern province of Kiên Giang, has transformed his Vespa scooter into a firefighting vehicle, and used it to battle dozens of blazes since 2010.
“When a fire breaks out, this motorbike [scooter-turned-fire engine] can do the work of many people,” said Thượng.
“Now the locals call me the ‘firefighter’.”
Thượng is a native of Long Xuyên in An Giang Province. In 1999, due to problems in failed business and debts piling up, he and his wife, along with four children, moved to the remote Vĩnh Thuận area, where they had no acquaintances.
During the last days of the millenium, when Vietnamese are busy shopping for New Year celebrations, Thượng was unable to afford gifts and treats for his family.
While walking over Vĩnh Thuận bridge, he thought that a motorcycle repair shop could mean something to the family.
Even without money, Thượng decided to hire land and set up a shop next to an old hospital for his new business. It was short lived, however, closing four or five months later due to a land clearance project. He then began work as a mobile mechanic along the province’s waterways.
After nearly four years, he could finally afford a suitable piece of land.
Local saviour: Thượng has battled a total of 14 blazes since his firefighting scooter was put into use in 2010. — Photos courtesy of Nguyễn Công Thượng
In 2010 Thượng witnessed a fire at the market in Vĩnh Tiến Commune and then later, another fire in Vĩnh Thuận District. The flames were high enough to overwhelm the locals and their rudimentary equipment, while the fire brigade failed to arrive in time. The houses were subsequently destroyed and a number of people were injured.
“The image of the fire, those who suffered severe burns, and those fainting on realising that their whole property had burned down haunted me,” said Thượng.
“Professional fire trucks do not always come in time or have access to all sites. If there was a fire in remote or rural areas, then how could they reach it? Why not use vehicles that are small and convenient, like a motorbike,” said Thượng.
Encouraged by the idea, he decided to ‘sacrifice’ his Vespa for the ‘experiment’.
The biggest obstacle was adapting the Vespa’s engine to pump water with enough force to extinguish large fires.
Fighting fire: Water can be taken from rivers, lakes or local houses and can reach a distance of 30 metres. As the motorbike is small and convenient, it can access remote areas where cars struggle.
To collect the necessary tools and equipment, he had to go to An Giang, Cần Thơ and down to Cà Mau Province.
“Many people said I was just wasting my time on the bizarre bike,” said Thượng. “I just laughed.”
After a year of work, and buckets of sweat, the bike was finally ready for use. He installed a new horn, slapped on a red colour scheme reminiscent of fire trucks across the world, and added a small fire extinguisher just in case “my own bike burns”.
He tested the new creation on the banks of the canal.
“The bike had the look, but in reality the water was only being sprayed 5 metres high. There were some laughs, but I persevered. A few sleepless nights later and I had managed to make the pump five times stronger,” said Thượng.
“There was a night when my ’fire engine’ bike was still unfinished, and a person ran to my house shouting about a fire. I followed him, bringing along my tools and bike.
Ingenious: Seeing that many farmers were being poisoned when they sprayed pesticides on their crops by hand, which is costly and inefficient, as well as dangerous, Thượng invented a multifunction machine that can spray pesticide, collect garbage and fertilise crops.
“After battling the blaze for more than an hour, we eventually extinguished the fire,” said Thượng.
To make the firefighting work more efficient, he began on a second set of wheels.
He had to buy another second-hand Vespa bike.
“It must be Vespa because my first firefighting bike was made from a Vespa due to the fact that the engines on these scooters can cool down by themselves. Others, including Honda Waves or Dreams motorbikes, only cool down when they are moving,” said Thượng.
Water can be taken from rivers, lakes or local houses and can reach a distance of 30 metres in height. As the motorbike is small and convenient, it can access remote areas where fire trucks struggle.
To rebuild his bikes like that, Thượng had to spend money, time and effort.
“No one expects fires. It’s good that I was able to make a firefighting bike to help others. I do not expect to be paid for this job,” he said.
Thượng’s firefighting bike was runner up in the third Technical Creativity Competition in 2011 and was invited to be exhibited at the Việt Nam Agriculture Fair held in HCM City.
Seeing that many farmers were being poisoned when they sprayed pesticides on their crops by hand, which is costly and inefficient, as well as dangerous, Thượng invented a multifunction machine that can spray pesticide, fertilise and haverst crops.
The machine weighs only 190kg, meaning it can be operated easily over the rice fields of Vĩnh Thuận. It can also sprinkle pesticides over an area of 20ha per day. The Department of Science and Technology of Kiên Giang supported Thượng in filing for intellectual property rights, said deputy director of Kiên Giang’s Department of Science and Technology, Nguyễn Xuân Niệm.
“I have always admired Thượng’s dedication. He works towards the benefit of others. He has developed and built a number of innovative machines with many practical functions to help farmers,” said Niệm.
Since 2011, Thượng has exported more than 100 multifuntional farming machines, which are sold at about VNĐ55 million (US$2,400) each, to Laos and Cambodia, and has been awarded with a certificate of praise from the Kiên Giang Province’s People’s Committee. VNS