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Japanese FFs travel to Calif. to learn American firefighting tactics

Japanese firefighters spent five days with CAL FIRE Butte County firefighters learning about tactics in Western-style buildings

By Dan Reidel
Chico Enterprise-Record

OROVILLE, Calif. — Traditional Japanese homes are made of clay and usually burn completely, but slowly, which often allows residents time to get out during a fire.

Modern Western-style homes, on the other hand, burn quicker, and Japanese firefighters don’t have familiarity with fighting fires in Western-style buildings, which are becoming increasingly common in Japan.

“You guys have the experience; that is why we need to learn the American firefighting techniques and tactics (and bring them) back to Japan,” said Takahiro Sato, a Japanese liaison and instructor who helped coordinate the training for Japanese firefighters with Cal Fire-Butte County.

The firefighters are learning and doing practical exercises this week at Cal Fire-Butte County’s training center on Openshaw Road outside Oroville. They’re planning on using ladder truck 91 today and climbing the ladder to the top of the training facility’s tower. On Friday, they plan to have a live fire exercise in which they will put out a fire in a building.

Fighting fires isn’t new to Japanese firefighters, and communicating in Japanese isn’t new to Cal Fire-Butte County Firefighter James Stovall, who spent 15 years of his childhood in Japan.

“I think it helps the unit and the firefighters of Japan to see a fellow firefighter working in the states, who also happens to speak Japanese, who grew up over there and kind of share some similarities and connect them a little bit more to our department,” Stovall said.

While Sato translated and worked Wednesday with Engineer Alex Klein to show one group of five firefighters roof ventilation techniques and “sounding” out a safe path while on rooftops, Stovall taught another group of five different hose tactics, showing the firefighters how to unravel and work with water hoses, a vital part of firefighting.

“They’ve been showing us a few techniques which we haven’t seen or haven’t heard about,” Stovall said.

The firefighters are from a few different departments in Japan, and Sato organized a similar training in March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to training the last few years, but Sato and Butte County firefighters plan on continuing the relationship and bringing more firefighters for training next year and beyond.

“This is a great opportunity,” Stovall said, “it’s pretty cool to see that we do have fellow firefighters overseas all over the world and being able to connect with them and spend some time and get to know them on a personal level and a skill and performance level is pretty awesome.”

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