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Kadena, Japanese fire departments team for joint exercise

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Christopher A. Marasky
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
The 18th Wing Civil Engineer fire department joined forces with the Nirai department in a joint hazardous material exercise Thursday.

The two fire departments conduct these joint exercises occasionally in order to further develop the cooperation and teamwork necessary to combat any type of fire or HAZMAT threat.

"These exercises allow us to take a look and identify each other's capabilities and strengths," said Chief Master Sgt. Rodolfo Gonzales, 18th CES fire chief.

One capability that Kadena brings to the table is the equipment and experience in detecting and dealing with unknown hazardous materials.

"We have a lot of detection capabilities they don't have," said Chief Gonzales. "We provide that aid to them. That's one of the main reasons they'd call us right away."

Kadena fire fighters have worked hand-in-hand with the Nirai department to help get their members trained in procedures for dealing with hazardous materials, a capability they didn't have before.

Only six years ago the Nirai fire department was untrained on how to deal with a HAZMAT incident, but with the training from Kadena, they've gained the knowledge and experience needed, according to Hiroshi Tsukayama, Nirai Fire Department deputy chief.

"Since 2002 when we started training together, we've improved every single time we have an exercise with the Kadena Fire Department," he said.

A major factor in the two units training together is the Mutual Aid agreement that Kadena has with the Nirai Fire Department. Each unit can call upon the other for assistance when needed, and they will receive the help they need.

"Fire protection is in the job of saving lives," said Chief Gonzales. "We're not here to recover the money and make a profit."

Kadena's addition to the Nirai HAZMAT response is important, as Japanese laws only require vehicles transporting hazardous materials to be marked with the kanji symbol for "Danger" leaving responders unaware of the actual material when they arrive on-scene.

The exercise also displayed the teamwork between the two organizations to leaders in the Japanese fire fighting community, as a group of instructors from prefectures within the Kyushu area of Japan witnessed the events.

The event centered on a vehicle carrying ammonia gas having an accident. The responders arrived at the scene to find the gas present. They then displayed their ability to retrieve the victims and decontaminate the area and themselves.

At the end of the day, the chemicals had been dealt with and the victims had been saved, making it a success, according to Koichi Hirata, Nirai fire department scene coordinator.

"We met all our objectives today, so we are very proud of them," he said. "They have the confidence that they are doing the right thing and doing it well. We look to keep doing this in the future."

The benefits of exercises like this one go beyond skills and knowing equipments, as the two fire departments learn to work as one team, according to Mr. Tsukayama.

"We believe there is no border between on-base and off-base for the fire department," he said. "Once an incident happens, it is natural that we work together to mitigate the threat and to save both the environment and people's lives."