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GINOWAN, Okinawa — The U.S. Marine Corps on Okinawa has delivered a letter of appreciation to the Ginowan City Fire Department for its quick response to the August crash of a Marine helicopter at Okinawa International University.

During a brief ceremony Tuesday afternoon at the Ginowan City Fire Station, Brig. Gen. James Flock, commander of Marine Corps bases on Okinawa, presented the certificate to Fire Chief Isamu Uezu as 17 firefighters who responded to the accident watched.

On Aug. 13, a Marine CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter crashed on the university campus, its rotors digging into the side of the school administration building as it fell. The aircraft burst into flames on impact with the ground, but the three-man crew survived. No civilians were injured.

The helicopter was based at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is adjacent to the school in the middle of urban Ginowan.

Ginowan firefighters were among the first people at the scene. They put the fire out and transported the injured crewmen to Camp Lester’s U.S. Naval Hospital.

“Within seven minutes, firefighters reached … the scene,” Flock said as he handed the letter of commendation to Uezu. “Your quick and courageous actions minimized damage to property, preserved lives and prevented injuries to Okinawans and Americans alike.”

“It is an honor for the entire fire station to receive the letter of appreciation,” Uezu replied. “Regardless of which side of the fence a disaster scene may be, we want to continue to work together to pursue our mission.”

Following the ceremony, Uezu, a 35-year veteran firefighter, stressed the importance of mutual cooperation between the city fire department and the military fire stations. Joint drills on a routine basis are necessary to effectively and properly respond to accidents like the August helo crash, he said.

“In fact, a lesson I learned from American firefighting instructors almost 30 years ago instantly came into my mind when I arrived on the scene in August,” he said. He was taught by an American instructor never to tackle an aircraft fire from the front, because weapons such as missiles and machine guns that might be aboard could launch, or the aircraft could move forward by itself if the engine is still working, he said.

“At the university crash in August, I found myself immediately directing young firefighters to move to the side of the aircraft and stay away from the front,” he said. “The lessons I received back in those days indeed helped all of us.”


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