USAG Japan firefighters become first international students to pass search and rescue course

By Sean Kimmons, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsMay 20, 2024

Capt. Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, conducts training at an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Saito and Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, who also works for USAG Japan, became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024.
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Capt. Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, conducts training at an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Saito and Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, who also works for USAG Japan, became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, who works for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, conducts a rope exercise during an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Watanabe and Capt. Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief for USAG Japan, became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024.
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, who works for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, conducts a rope exercise during an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Watanabe and Capt. Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief for USAG Japan, became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
Capt. Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief, and Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, who both work for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, pose for a photo with instructors of an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Both firefighters became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024.
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Capt. Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief, and Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, who both work for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, pose for a photo with instructors of an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Both firefighters became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

CAMP ZAMA, Japan – Four U.S. Army Garrison Japan firefighters recently attended training in the United States, including two who were the first international students to complete a rigorous urban search and rescue course.

Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe and Capt. Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief, graduated in late April with honors from the six-week course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

The pair also earned 13 Department of Defense, International Fire Service Accreditation Congress and Pro Board certifications during the course, which the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence’s Homeland Defense Civil Support Office teaches.

“It was challenging for me, but it was really fun,” Saito said. “We had to sometimes take three tests a week, so it was tough, but it was definitely worth it.”

The course, mainly for Army firefighters and engineers, covered six rescue disciplines, including rope, confined space, trench, structural collapse, vehicle, and machinery.

The realistic training was conducted in an area that had 60-foot rappelling towers, wrecked vehicles, simulated building collapses and trenches.

“Overall, it was amazing training for me because we cannot experience this type of training in Japan,” Watanabe said.

USAG Japan firefighters currently practice search and rescue drills at a smaller facility on Sagami General Depot.

Watanabe, who serves as the assistant chief for training, said he plans to share the knowledge he learned from this course to help improve his department’s facility and training.

The fire department prioritizes search and rescue skills, Watanabe said, since Japan has many earthquakes throughout the year, such as the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Ishikawa Prefecture on New Year’s Day.

“We will continue to train on search and rescue training to prepare for a [potential] response to protect the Camp Zama and Kure district communities,” he said.

The recent course also had about 50 students with almost one instructor per two students, allowing the staff to provide an in-depth learning experience.

“They had great knowledge on the newest techniques,” Watanabe said of the instructors.

Capt. Takanori Saito, right, a fire crew chief, and Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, who both work for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, pose for a photo during an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Both firefighters became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024.
1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Capt. Takanori Saito, right, a fire crew chief, and Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, who both work for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, pose for a photo during an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Both firefighters became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, top left, who works for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, conducts training with other students during an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Watanabe and Capt. Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief for USAG Japan, became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024.
2 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, top left, who works for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, conducts training with other students during an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Watanabe and Capt. Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief for USAG Japan, became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
Capt. Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, conducts training at an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Saito and Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, who also works for USAG Japan, became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024.
3 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Capt. Takanori Saito, a fire crew chief for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, conducts training at an urban search and rescue course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Saito and Assistant Chief Masahiro Watanabe, who also works for USAG Japan, became the first international students to graduate the six-week course in late April 2024. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Capt. Koki Saito, center, a training captain for U.S. Army Garrison Japan's fire department, discusses the jaws of life equipment with Kengo Ishizuka, a firefighter, at Fire Station 1 on Camp Zama, Japan, May 16, 2024. Koki Saito and Yu Mori, a fire truck driver, traveled to Indianapolis to attend the Fire Department Instructors Conference in April where they received hands-on training on new procedures and best practices.
4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Capt. Koki Saito, center, a training captain for U.S. Army Garrison Japan's fire department, discusses the jaws of life equipment with Kengo Ishizuka, a firefighter, at Fire Station 1 on Camp Zama, Japan, May 16, 2024. Koki Saito and Yu Mori, a fire truck driver, traveled to Indianapolis to attend the Fire Department Instructors Conference in April where they received hands-on training on new procedures and best practices. (Photo Credit: Sean Kimmons) VIEW ORIGINAL

While both firefighters said the language barrier was a challenge for them, they still were able to graduate with GPA scores in the mid-90s.

“Sometimes I had to translate to Japanese and understand it and then translate it back to English to take the test,” Saito said of answering questions on the written tests. “That was the most difficult situation for me.”

They also had the opportunity to learn more about American culture while working with their classmates.

Saito said he was able to familiarize himself with some of the military lingo Soldiers used as they spoke to each other on radios, which may help him when teaming up with Soldiers at Camp Zama.

“We are firefighters on base and working with American people,” he said, “so it’s really important to know each other better.”

In mid-April, Capt. Koki Saito, a training captain, and Yu Mori, a fire truck driver, traveled to Indianapolis to attend the Fire Department Instructors Conference, known as the largest professional event in North America for fire and emergency services.

The conference provided an array of hands-on and classroom training in addition to an exhibition.

Mori, for instance, participated in active shooter and school bus incident rescue training while studying several other firefighting techniques.

Koki said he honed his skills on HOSE training, or hoisting, operating, stretching and estimating, as well as using the jaws of life to rescue victims and dealing with vehicle fires.

“They taught me a lot of their experience and knowledge,” Koki said of the instructors. “The training really helped improve myself and motivated me.”

Koki also studied more about how a rapid intervention team works. A RIT serves as a fully equipped rescue team on scene that would be deployed to rescue injured or trapped firefighters.

“If a firefighter calls mayday in a fire situation, we would have to rescue the firefighter,” Koki said.

As a training captain, Koki said he will soon develop some training events to pass along to his fellow firefighters the new procedures and best practices he learned.

“This is my No. 1 priority — to bring back a lot of knowledge and techniques and spread them to all crews to enhance their productivity,” he said.

Related links:

U.S. Army Garrison Japan news

USAG Japan official website