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With the turn of a knob, Staff Sgt. Kevin Wasiewski, a crew chief with the Misawa Air Base, Japan, fire department, regulates the intensity of a propane-fueled fire inside the department’s structural trainer during a firefighting workshop Wednesday.

With the turn of a knob, Staff Sgt. Kevin Wasiewski, a crew chief with the Misawa Air Base, Japan, fire department, regulates the intensity of a propane-fueled fire inside the department’s structural trainer during a firefighting workshop Wednesday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

With the turn of a knob, Staff Sgt. Kevin Wasiewski, a crew chief with the Misawa Air Base, Japan, fire department, regulates the intensity of a propane-fueled fire inside the department’s structural trainer during a firefighting workshop Wednesday.

With the turn of a knob, Staff Sgt. Kevin Wasiewski, a crew chief with the Misawa Air Base, Japan, fire department, regulates the intensity of a propane-fueled fire inside the department’s structural trainer during a firefighting workshop Wednesday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

A Misawa Air Base, Japan, firefighter hoses down the smoky remnants of a 600-degree blaze in a structural trainer Wednesday.

A Misawa Air Base, Japan, firefighter hoses down the smoky remnants of a 600-degree blaze in a structural trainer Wednesday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Kunihiko Tainaka, a master labor contract firefighter at Misawa Air Base, Japan, rests and watches from inside a U.S. Air Force fire truck during training Wednesday. Japanese firefighters make up the bulk of some U.S. military fire departments in Japan and Okinawa.

Kunihiko Tainaka, a master labor contract firefighter at Misawa Air Base, Japan, rests and watches from inside a U.S. Air Force fire truck during training Wednesday. Japanese firefighters make up the bulk of some U.S. military fire departments in Japan and Okinawa. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Brian Livingston, a civilian from Seattle, cuts through a car with a rotary circular saw during a firefighters’ workshop at Misawa Air Base, Japan, on Wednesday.

Brian Livingston, a civilian from Seattle, cuts through a car with a rotary circular saw during a firefighters’ workshop at Misawa Air Base, Japan, on Wednesday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Training workshops can be dull, unless you’re a firefighter.

Under a hot sun Wednesday at Misawa, fires blazed, hoses rained, chainsaws tore through concrete, and U.S. military and civilian fire chiefs from Japan and Okinawa applauded.

The gathering at the Misawa fire department’s training grounds was part of the 23rd annual Japanese master labor contract firefighters’ conference. Defense Department fire chiefs were joined by their senior Japanese counterparts who help staff base fire departments throughout the region.

The morning outdoor session with about 50 people lacked little in special effects. Misawa firefighters put out two bright-orange blazes — in their aircraft trainer and in a new facility that can sizzle inside to 600 degrees or more — to simulate structural fires. In between the burns, the decibel level prompted ear-plugging as vendors ripped through cinder blocks and automobile doors with the latest in life-saving, power-tool technology.

But the real work of the conference was more subdued. “We talk about common issues,” said Chief Master Sgt. Troy Edwards, Misawa’s fire chief, “training, medical, health-related issues … so we’re all on the same page.”

Getting on the same page can be a challenge, however, considering policies differ some among services. And then there’s the added component of Japanese master labor contract (MLC) firefighters, who make up the bulk of firefighting at some bases.

Russ Tarver, regional fire chief for Commander, Naval Forces Japan, said of the 500 Navy firefighters throughout Japan, 10 are DOD employees, the rest are MLC. In the Air Force, however, 60 percent of fire departments are active duty, he said.

“We’re trying to make sure we have continuity across the fire services,” Tarver said.

According to Mark Lawler, the civilian fire chief at Yokota Air Base, some of the key issues discussed at the workshop included:

n Emergency Medical Services: In the Air Force, hospitals or medical groups are responsible for emergency medical response, but the Air Force is considering moving that function to fire departments.

n Civilian personnel: The Japanese government no longer exempts master labor contract firefighters from the mandatory 40-hour work week, a change that went into effect in April 2006. Last year at Yokota alone, overtime for 39 MLC firefighters was about $250,000, Lawler said. That expense is still covered by the Japanese government but under a different pot of money. DOD fire chiefs are discussing proposing a change to the U.S.-Japan Special Measures agreement that would put MLC firefighters under a different pay scale, Lawler said. If MLC firefighters are forced to reduce their hours, “we don’t really know the impact,” Lawler said. One risk, he added, is some MLC firefighters could opt for a less stressful or dangerous job for the same, 40-hour-a-week pay.

CNFJ fire crew is No. 1 again

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Commander, Naval Forces Japan’s Regional Fire Department recently was named the Navy Large Fire Department of the Year for 2006 — the third time in four years the department has won the award.

The fire department also picked up four of the five annual Naval Safety Center Fire and Emergency Services awards.

The late Norman Blankenship, who suffered a stroke in December, was named Civilian Fire Officer of the Year. Blankenship was the acting fire chief for the Yokosuka area and assistant fire chief for the entire Kanto Plain.

Hideyuki Kusaba was selected Civilian Firefighter of the Year. The CNFJ fire department also picked up the Best Fire Prevention Program award.

“Every member of this fire department has set themselves apart by focusing on host-nation relations, public education and prevention in an effort to reduce fire loss and improve the safety of those who reside both on and off base,” wrote Regional Fire Chief, Japan Russ Tarver in his nomination package for the Navy Fire Department of the Year award.

— Stars and Stripes

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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