HERTFORDSHIRE, U.K. — Hertfordshire's leading firefighter has been personally thanked by the Emperor and Empress of Japan after heading the UK's search and rescue team's efforts to locate earthquake survivors.
Roy Wilsher, 49, Hertfordshire's Chief Fire Officer, was the guest of honour a reception at the Japanese embassy on May 17 where Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko thanked those who supported Japan after the earthquake on March 11 2011.
Mr Wilsher led a team of 63 rescuers from the UK including 59 firefighters and four medics who searched for survivors in Imaichi and Ofunato.
Reflecting on the rescue efforts in Japan, he said: "It was unimaginable, the amount of devastation.
"You would drive through street after street, district after district, town after town that had been completely destroyed.
"It was unique to my experience, there had obviously been a huge loss of life.
"It was like Buncefield [oil disaster] but hundreds or thousands of times worse.
"Unfortunately we didn't find anybody alive, that was partly due to the freezing conditions, at night temperatures fell to -5 degrees.
"The reception we received from the Japanese people was absolutely fantastic, it almost sounds stereotypical to say but they were very polite, humble and stoic and just very grateful that the rest of the world was concerned for them.
"I very much see it as another part of my job but it was an experience I will never forget."
He said being invited to the Japanese embassy was an honour both for himself and for Hertfordshire.
He said: "It was a reception in collaboration with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee where I was presented to the Emperor and Empress.
"She was very much saying thanks and offering her gratitude for how much the UK effort helped them.
"He was also very grateful but asked me about the operation and what we did and how we did it."
Mr Wilsher is no stranger to disaster situations and was on duty during the Buncefield oil depot fire in 2005, he also provided assistance following the 1991 mortar attack on Downing Street and the Ladbroke Grove rail crash in 2009.
The Barnet-based hero left London Fire Brigade to join Hertfordshire in January 2004 and became Chief Fire Officer the following year.
He added: "I have been in the fire service almost 30 years and have seen a number of disasters and terror attacks.
"This was my first overseas operational deployment although I have trained with the EU in Poland and I ran a large international exercise in Hertfordshire and Hampshire in 2010 during which we trained for earthquake scenarios.
"A lot of that training came in very helpful when we were setting up too."
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