CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- The U.S. Army Garrison Japan Fire Department is the best large fire department in the Army, according to a U.S. Army Installation Management Command memo released April 14.
“It’s quite an honor to be recognized, especially knowing how many other fire departments are out there,” said Regional Fire Chief Frank Wombwell, who has headed the department for more than three and a half years. “It’s very important, not just for the firefighters and the department, but also all the way up [the chain of command], and for the country of Japan.”
The Department of Defense holds the Fire and Emergency Services Annual Firefighter Awards annually, and after winning at the Pacific level, IMCOM level and U.S. Army Materiel Command level for the Army title, members of the USAG Japan department will now go up against their Navy, Air Force and Marine counterparts for the title of best in the DOD.
This year’s competition is based on departments’ performances during 2020, and the USAG Japan Fire Department had a busy year responding to emergencies, training, innovating, conducting public outreach, winning awards and more, according to the department’s nominating memorandum.
The department has fire stations at seven installations spread across 930 square miles throughout Japan. Not only did the department mitigate issues taken from 911 calls, there were also no lives lost in the 164 medical emergencies they responded to, according to the department’s nominating memorandum.
In addition, two USAG Japan firefighters won the garrison’s employee of the quarter award in 2020, or 50% of the awards for that year, and the department boosted their skills by earning 362 firefighting, emergency medical services, technical rescue, and hazardous materials certifications, according to the department’s nominating memorandum.
To name a few other highlights, the department trained more than 120 employees on first aid, CPR and Automated External Defibrillator use; conducted 864 safety inspections and corrected 219 deficiencies; participated in the Joint Community Earthquake Response Drill in September 2020 with Japanese emergency organizations; innovated medical safety protocols in the face of COVID-19; protected $1.2 million in assets by identifying severe fire hazards in six eateries; held 12 fire station visits for 120 children; upgraded emergency vehicles; and secured $249,000 for a three-story live-fire trainer on Sagami General Depot, Japan.
Wombwell said the department works closely with the local Sagamihara and Zama city fire departments, and he looks forward to using the trainer with them when it is complete in the later portion of this summer.
“We’ve given them the information on the structural trainer,” Wombwell said. “They don’t have anything like that, so it’s going to be a huge, huge benefit.”
Also, Wombwell said the department doesn’t have the luxury of sending firefighters to the DOD firefighting school, so USAG Japan officials have developed their own “rookie academy” to certify firefighters, and they improved that as well during 2020.
Specifically, the department upgraded the academy by adding standards for hazardous materials technicians; structure collapse response; confined space rescue; and technical rope rescue, and they trained to National Fire Protection Association and Japanese standards, according to the nomination document.
Regional Deputy Fire Chief Richard Juday said the award is a big honor, and he is glad to see the Army recognize the hard work of all the firefighters.
“We have to overcome a lot of language barriers,” Juday said. “A lot of our training material comes out in English and we have three training officers who have to convert that into Japanese and train our guys. So it’s just a big honor. They work very hard.”