SAGAMI GENERAL DEPOT, Japan – Smoke billowed from the doors of a new live-fire training facility here as flames grew inside the structure.
Several firefighters, wearing protective suits, watched closely how the fire behaved as the doors were opened and shut to regulate oxygen levels while practicing to extinguish the flames.
After being trained by contractors on the facility earlier this year, the U.S. Army Garrison Japan fire department has recently begun to train its own personnel on the proper ways to handle indoor fires.
Firefighters previously used outdoor, gas-fueled structures to replicate fire incidents. The training inside the three-level facility, which is built from storage containers, uses wooden materials to fuel fires.
And since much of the heat from the fire is trapped inside the facility, temperatures there can reach almost 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It’s very hot,” said Masatoshi Sugiyama, training captain for the department. “The firefighters really feel the heat.”
Sugiyama and other instructors trained a group of garrison firefighters from the Kanto and Hiroshima regions last week.
The department, which has been named best large fire department in U.S. Army Installation Management Command–Pacific for six years in a row, has more than 140 firefighters across eight fire stations.
Firefighters must conduct live-fire training twice a year, in addition to other required training. Later this month, another group of firefighters will do similar training as well as practice technical rescue skills that will include them rappelling from the facility, Sugiyama said.
Masaru Kumakura, who has been a firefighter for more than 30 years, participated in the latest live-fire training for the first time.
“It was fantastic training,” he said. “There’s no other place where we can actually experience real fire and smoke like this. We can’t do that [anywhere else], so this is really important.”
Even with his decades of experience, Kumakura said the training was beneficial for him to learn since buildings are now being built differently compared to traditional construction.
“The training is important to keep my teammates and myself safe, as well as the Camp Zama community,” he said.
Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief, described the training inside the facility as realistic and vital for all firefighters to experience.
“We used to do this kind of training with gas, which is controlled by us,” he said. “This one is much more difficult to control than using gas, so it’s more like an actual fire situation.”
Masahiro Watanabe, assistant chief of training for the department, helped with the one-day training event, which included two separate live-fire scenarios.
While firefighters here do not typically see many fire incidents, he said, they must still know fire suppression tactics to be ready whenever the call comes.
“We are firefighters and we work to protect the community,” he said. “We cannot make a mistake if something happens.”