Saturday 12th May, 2012
I should not have been surprised that my volunteer translator was waiting in the foyer of the Toyoko Inn, Kuramae some 20 minutes before the arranged meeting time.
Resplendant in a dark suit, and busily reading the notes I had emailed him form Australia, Junji was excited as me about going to the nearby Asakusa Fire Station – part of the Tokyo Fire Department (TFD). More about Junji later.
A quick change from my daggy tourist wear into my (polished) fire boots, blue drill pants and yellow New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) work shirt and we were off.
Earlier, it had taken a few innnocent passes by the fire station to work out where the office door was, so that out official visit would not start out with me trying to get in to the air conditioning unit.
Again, I failed to appreciate the organisation and importance my Japanese hosts would place on my visit. As Junji and I approached, a fire fighter greeted me by name in halting but understandable English, welcoming this Aussie volunteer fire fighter to Asakusa Fire Station.
Mr Fumio Fujita, Fire Captain and Chief of Community Safety and Disaster Education Branch, ran through the operational structure of the Asakusa Fire Station. On this day, 24 career fire fighters were on duty, crewing 2 pumpers, support vehicles, operational command and an ambulance.
Mr Fujita explained the significant efforts made to minimise the impacts of home fires, programs to ensure smoke alarms are installed and working, and activities undertaken to identify and support the more vulnerable members of their community.
Language aside, it was fascinating to observe the similarities between fire service activities in Australia and those being applied in Asakusa – especially around home fire safety. It was great to see that 10-year batteries are standard in smoke alarms in Japan. Maybe that will soon be in place in Australia.
Following Mr Fujita’s description of the Asakusa Fire Station functions, I ran through a prepared series of photos – with translated captions – on the typical role of volunteers in the NSWRFS and in my Hazelbrook Rural Fire Brigade.
Of course this highlighted significant operational differences between the our services. For example that our Category 1 Tankers dwarf the typical Japan Pumper. However what was clear and consistent is the paramount importance of fire fighter safety – both in the urban environment of Asakusa and the wild lands of the Blue Mountains.
A special training exercise followed in the drill yard. With the Asakusa Pumper, fire fighters conducted a search and rescue with unnerving precision.
I continue to be fascinated with the notion of Volunteer Fire Corps in the Tokyo megalopolis, and have posted before on this.
Mr Isamu Takaoka is the Deputy Chief responsible for the Volunteer Fire Corps associated with Asakusa Fire Station.
I was lucky enough to be taken to a local Fire Corps by Mr Takaoka, to see a tiny Daihatsu light truck with a portable pump – comparable to ‘slip-ons’ you might see in rural Australia. Mr Takaoka advised me that this Corps had only just recently got this truck – their first – replacing the hand-pulled cart!
The Fire Corps volunteers undertake much of the fire safety community education and engagement work in the area. They also support the many local festivals and events.
Back at the Fire Station, Mr Fujita suggested I try on his Tokyo Fire Department turnout gear. Everything was fitting reasonably well until it came to doing up the belt. Talk about sucking the stomach in! Although I ended up looking like Robbie the Robot from bad 1960’s science fiction movies, I was honored to put the TFD gear on, even it was only momentarily.
During my visit of 2 hours or so, a fire fighter had been taking photos. 2 of those photos were presented to me in a TFD folder before I left. A very professional action, and a lovely momento of a great visit.
The visit to Asakusa Fire Station would not have occurred without support. I want to thank two people in particular:
Junji Iwami who volunteered to translate for me. Junji is a Licensed Tour Guide, and a Volunteer Guide with the Ueno Systemised Guide Group. Junji led a small of group of tourists – me included – around Ueno Park when I visited there in August 2011.
Fukashi Kawakami from the Japan Local Government Centre office in Sydney. When I knew where I was to be staying in Tokyo, Fukashi made contact with the local Fire Station (Asakusa) and set up this visit. Fukashi also translated the captions to my photo series.