By Amanda M. RahimianFebruary 15, 2017
The U.S. Army Garrison - Okinawa Fire Department recently won the Pacific Region Department of Defense Small Fire Department of the Year award for calendar year 2016, giving them a shot at the DoD-wide title.
The award recognizes the best fire department with three or fewer staffed firefighting companies in the Pacific region within the DoD. The department earned the award through their emergency-response performance, customer outreach, public education, and initiatives focusing on training and safety both on base and in the local community.
"I feel honored, I'm very proud of it," said Army firefighter Akira Kohama. "It's very hard work but it's worth doing it. I want to help people, especially kids. I don't want to see them injured or suffering so I really want to help them."
Teamwork contributed immeasurably to the fire department's success, with the firefighting crews forming an exceptionally close bond with one another. Firefighters work 24 hour shifts, creating a second Family away from home.
"Everything we do together as a team contributed to this award," said Assistant Fire Chief Naoki Nakazato. "We clean the fire station together, we cook together, and we do equipment checks together. That helps us to be a team even when we are in an emergency; every step of every day contributes to success. My favorite part of being a firefighter is we work together to do what we like to do, and people get saved," he said.
Together, the firefighters of the Army's home on Okinawa responded to 145 calls in 2016, including responding to a case of heat stroke in an 86-year-old Japanese farmer and providing medical support to a severe head-on car collision in Yomitan Village.
Charles Butler, the USAG-O fire chief, said that working with local off-base fire departments is an integral part of keeping the community of Okinawa safe.
"If the Nirai Fire Department needs any kind of assistance on an emergency call, we'll help them; likewise here at Torii Station if we have an emergency and we need assistance, we can call the Nirai fire department," he said. "We also have regularly scheduled training events throughout the year like the recent Naha City disaster drill we participated in."
The Torii Station Fire Department supports a mutual aid agreement with both the Nirai and Naha Fire Departments. The three fire departments train together, share resources, and support one another during emergency responses, said Butler. The bilateral partnership is fundamental to community safety and support.
The USAG-O Fire Department will go on to compete at the U.S. Army Installation Management Command-level for best small fire department later this year.
"This award will eventually lead to the DOD Small Fire Department of the Year so we are just in the initial stages right now. We won the award for the IMCOM-Pacific Region but every great event has to start somewhere and our firefighters and I are very proud to have won this award" said Butler.