This apartment tower at Yokota Air Base, Japan, was the site of an eighth-floor fire in 2003.

This apartment tower at Yokota Air Base, Japan, was the site of an eighth-floor fire in 2003. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

Firefighting, building and fire safety officials were asked what fire-safety provisions are provided for residential housing on their bases. Here’s what they reported:


Yokota Air Base

Buildings: 21 tower apartments built between 1974 and 1999. Should be able to withstand fires in adjoining units for three hours. Towers have four dedicated fire escapes reached via master bedroom patios; occupants can escape without entering main hallways.

Alarm systems: All towers’ fire alarms sound automatically on three floors: the one with the fire, the one above and the one below. Alarms register automatically at fire stations. Firefighters at the scene determine whether to sound a general alarm to evacuate entire building. Some older buildings lack sprinklers. Sprinklers in towers are temperature-rated, most for 135 degrees; when the temperature reaches that point, the sprinklers activate.

Firefighting equipment: Yokota fire department has no ladder trucks. Mutual-aid agreement allows use of Tokyo fire department’s ladder trucks, which reach approximately 98 feet. Ninth-floor apartments are approximately 101 feet off the ground. In case of “massive” fire, residents to be evacuated using dedicated evacuation stairwells in each wing of each tower.

Safety training for residents: New arrivals briefed on fire emergency services; follow-up mandatory briefing on residential fire safety, conducted in the fire station, covers far more detailed information.

Misawa Air Base

Buildings: 13 high-rise towers, all built since 1988, constructed similarly to those at Yokota, of noncombustible materials such as concrete, steel and gypsum. No hazardous products, such as natural gas utilities, used. Walls and doors rated to withstand a fire for four hours; floors, for two. Every two tower units share “smoke-evacuation stairwell” enclosed with fire-rated walls and separate from central stairway. Towers have built-in sprinkler systems and standpipes for firefighting. Older, 1940s “800” housing units to be replaced this year with noncombustible, concrete buildings.

Alarm systems: Modified in 2001 so alarms sound on all floors, not just three. If the nine-floor automatic alert system fails, firefighters or residents could use pull stations to activate a fire alarm on each floor. Any tower evacuation alarm also can be triggered from firefighters’ communications center. Towers have built-in sprinkler systems.

Firefighting equipment: Ladder truck reaches 102 feet; given new security barriers, it’s estimated to reach just the 4th or 5th floors at most towers — but probably would not be used for firefighting or rescue. Fire attack plan is first to advance hose lines inside for quick attack and second, to support sprinkler and standpipe systems with increased pressure.

Safety training for residents: Base firefighters run an aggressive fire-safety education campaign, taking fire engines into housing areas on evenings and weekends, going door-to-door to offer voluntary smoke-detector and fire-extinguisher checks and pass out fire-safety materials.

Commander, Naval Forces Japan

CNFJ facilities include Yokosuka and Sasebo naval bases, Atsugi Naval Air Facility and other outlying facilities on the mainland and Okinawa.

Buildings: 41 high-rise towers throughout the CNFJ region, built between 1972 and 1999; all either have been renovated or are scheduled to be. The concrete structures each have at least two separate fire-rated stairwells. All construction and renovation projects undergo comprehensive reviews toward ensuring all fire and life safety requirements are met.

Alarm systems: CNFJ follows the Yokota model, alerting residents on three floors only; if needed, a building’s general alarm is activated by firefighters. Smoke detectors are in bedrooms, hallways and stairwells; heat detectors are in every kitchen. Fire extinguishers are in common areas on all levels for emergency use. All units also have stove-fire extinguishers and newly installed sprinkler systems. Fire-alarm systems are tested by contractors semiannually.

Firefighting equipment: Yokosuka’s ladder truck reaches 105 feet — higher than the base’s tallest building, which is 9 stories.

Safety training for residents: Before occupying a tower unit, CNFJ personnel must attend an Area Orientation Briefing, which provides basic fire-safety training. Evacuation drills are held annually, accompanied by additional fire-safety tips.

Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni

Buildings: Towers and mid-rises dating to 1980.

Alarm systems: Vary according to age and manufacturer. Alarms sound throughout building if someone pulls an alarm or a heat detector is triggered. If a smoke detector or smoke dampener is triggered, alarms sound only on that floor and the floors above and below. Some of the system’s technology is dated, leading to repeated false alarms.

Firefighting equipment: Ladder truck can reach top floors of the base’s tallest housing towers.

Safety training for residents: Briefing on fire safety, escape routes and exits, given upon move-in for residents of towers and barracks.

Camp Zama

Buildings: Two 68-unit towers, built in 1992 and 1999.

Alarm systems: Fire alarm and heat detector triggers alarm in entire building; smoke detector triggers alarm in quarters or local area. Systems are spot-checked periodically. Fire department conducts spot checks a few times yearly to ensure fire exits are clearly marked and accessible and for fire code violations in the buildings. All detectors in towers inspectedand and tested by independent contractor and fire department within past year.

Firefighting equipment: Information not available at press time.

Safety training for residents: Fire-safety training; fire department conducts periodoc unscheduled fire drills.


Buildings: Guam military bases have no family housing towers; the tallest housing units are two-story family dwellings built in the mid-1990s.

Alarm systems: Smoke detectors are on every floor and outside each bedroom in all Navy family housing units. Sprinkler systems and smoke detectors are in all Harbor View family housing.

Firefighting equipment: Adequate for the type of housing served.

Safety training for residents: Upon command orientation, new tenants are briefed on what to do in the event of a fire.


Buildings: 30 tower apartments spread across Okinawa’s bases, dating from 1985; all are maintained by the Air Force. Each apartment should be able to withstand an adjacent fire for four hours.

Alarm systems: Vary. In newer towers, if smoke is detected, alarms sound on that floor, one floor above and one below. Once on scene, the fire chief determines whether the alarm should be activated for all floors and the entire tower evacuated. Heat detectors are set to trigger at 135 degrees; if heat is detected, alarms sound on all floors. In the older towers, alarms sound on all floors whenever smoke or heat alarms are triggered. Alarm systems register with local fire departments, where the general response time is less than five minutes. As towers are renovated, the older alarm systems are upgraded to meet U.S. fire codes. Sprinklers are in lobbies only in older buildings; in every room in newer ones.

Firefighting equipment: The Marine Corps Fire Department on Camp Foster recently acquired a new fire truck that extends to just over 134 feet; housing towers are about 100 feet tall. The new truck has a built-in 300-gallon tank and a lift, essentially a two-person elevator running the ladder’s length.

Safety training for residents: Each base’s fire department determines the frequency and need for tower-evacuation drills.

South Korea

Buildings: Aside from a few 15-story buildings at Hannam Village, Yongsan Garrison’s tallest structures are a few five-story units for junior officers and the Dragon Hill hotel. Most of the other U.S. military housing on the peninsula is in mid- or low-rise buildings.

Alarm systems: Sound on the floor of the fire, the one above and the one below. As heat from a fire spreads, sprinkler heads should activate. In most housing, only fire officials on the scene decide whether an entire floor or building should be evacuated. But on Camp George in Taegu, any occupant can activate a manual, building-wide “pull” alarm. Those are mounted on each floor of an apartment building. And in a Jan. 1 policy change, fire alarms in most U.S. Army buildings in South Korea no longer automatically will notify fire departments when activated; fire departments must be phoned.

Firefighting equipment: Yongsan Garrison in Seoul has a 100-foot ladder truck that allows rescues up to the 10th floor of most buildings. If a fire occurs at a taller building, both U.S. and Korean fire departments respond — and the Seoul department has a ladder truck that will reach to the 16th floor.

Safety training for residents: Education measures include fire-safety instruction pamphlets given to high-rise residents.

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