For me, this tragic event was immediately personal, since I spent a week in June last year with several other U.S. chief officers — from Chicago, New York City, and Phoenix — as a guest of Tokyo Fire Chief Yuji Arai and his capable staff.
I also knew that, given the magnitude of the damage, many of my former colleagues with the Fairfax County, Va., Fire and Rescue Department would soon be on their way to Japan as part of the international urban search and rescue (USAR) response.
The Tokyo Fire Department (TFD) has 18,000 highly-trained and supremely capable firefighters; without exception, they are up to the monumental task facing their department, city, and country.
Everywhere we went in Tokyo we found well-disciplined, fit, and confident personnel who seemed to be training constantly. When we asked about safety issues that often face U.S. fire departments (e.g. seat belts, SCBA compliance, etc.), the firefighters couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't wear the required/provided safety equipment; to them, it just didn't make sense!
We also noted the great importance placed on public education and "rode," alongside a few hundred school-age children, in an earthquake simulator. The TFD also relies on 16,000-plus volunteers, deployed throughout the community, to provide emergency service in their neighborhoods after disasters; akin to the U.S. Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program.
There is no doubt in my mind that Japan will effectively respond to, and recover from, this epic disaster. As with any such event, a great deal of the credit will lie with the preparedness efforts and courage of the Tokyo Fire Department.
About the author
With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel — FireRescue1's editorial advisor — is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.
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