CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- For the second year in a row, Installation Management Command-Pacific (IMCOM) has recognized U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Japan Fire and Emergency Services as the best large fire department in the region.
"It's a validation of the hard work of everybody and goes to show what they do on a day-to-day basis is recognized by not only leadership locally but leadership within (IMCOM) Pacific," said J.D. Felty, regional deputy fire chief, USAG Japan Fire and Emergency Services.
The Department of Defense holds the competition annually worldwide, and this year's competition is based on departments' performances during 2018. The USAG Japan fire department had a busy year responding to emergencies, training and conducting public outreach, according to the department's nominating memorandum.
The department is located at seven post locations over 930 square miles throughout Japan, and not only did the department mitigate 492 emergencies, there were no lives lost in the 130 medical emergencies they responded to, according to department statistics.
Notably, the department saved a 66-year-old historic facility at Camp Zama after an electrical fire broke out in Building 680 around lunchtime Nov. 16, 2018, Felty said. Their actions prevented the total loss of the $370,000 facility.
"We had mutual aid--Zama City responded--and the firefighters worked the fire and got it out," Felty said. "Through their efforts and their quick reaction, quick response, we were able to keep the fire confined to one end of the building and so the fire didn't spread and destroy the whole building."
In addition, after a construction crew found an unexploded, World War II-era ordnance at Sagami General Depot in Sagamihara, firefighters set up two levels of concrete barriers to mitigate the situation until explosive ordnance disposal technicians were able to arrive, Felty said.
"If something did happen, at least a significant amount of the blast would [have been] contained within there and then go up instead of spreading out," Felty said.
The department also holds a rookie academy, and this year eight new firefighters graduated from it at National Fire Protection Association Firefighter Level II, Felty said. This is an advanced level that assures firefighters know how to put out a variety of fires, extricate a person from a vehicle, conduct rescue operations and much more.
Other highlights included 1,124 fire inspections that resulted in 387 corrected deficiencies; saving IMCOM $1.2 million by overhauling two reserve structural vehicles and extending their lives by seven years; and the department's participation in the Kanagawa Prefecture Joint Disaster Drill that involved nine municipalities, 140 organizations and 3,000 people responding to an earthquake scenario.
Felty and Fire Chief Frank Wombwell are the only U.S. civilians who work for the department, and Felty said all of the department's 134 firefighters are Japanese. They make it easy to keep the department running smoothly, he said.
Fire Crew Chief Tetsuya Hamada, assigned to Camp Zama's Station 1, said he has worked for the department for 29 years, and winning an award like this helps inspire him to continue to do his best.
Nobuki Azuma, a training assistant for the fire chief, said he has worked for the department for 21 years and was glad to see the department win the award for the second year in a row.
"I'm very happy and very honored," Azuma said.
IMCOM Pacific announced this round of winners Jan. 30, and next the department goes up against other large departments at the Army level, Felty said. If the department wins there, they go on to compete against departments in other branches of the military. Medium and small departments also compete against one another.
Felty said he expects to hear how the department has done at the Army level by early April.