Local man dies at AmericaFest; Okinawa ambulance delay decried
July 8, 2009
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Okinawa officials say they were stymied in providing quick transport of a 62-year-old man who choked to death on a hot dog Saturday during the base’s AmericaFest celebration.
A spokesman for the Okinawa City Fire Department said if an ambulance had been routed from a fire station closer to the festival, the victim could have been transported sooner to a local hospital.
Instead, the call made by the military went to a firehouse in Okinawa City, on the opposite side of the base. It took more than 16 minutes for the rescue vehicle to make the run from Gate Two to the crowded festival site, said Hiroshi Takamiyagi, director of the department’s disaster prevention division.
“There is a strong need for establishing a system where an ambulance from the local community can respond within a reasonable amount of time,” he said, noting that the Nirai Fire Station in Kadena Town is much closer to the festival site and a normally closed gate in the town was open for the event.
“Even giving consideration to the traffic situation and other surrounding factors, what is for certain is that it took too long for an ambulance to get there,” Takamiyagi said. “Much closer coordination and communications are necessary between medical emergency teams, the military and local communities.”
Kadena officials Monday did not have an estimate of the number of people at this year’s festival. Last year between 45,000 and 50,000 people attended.
Saturday’s incident occurred at about 4 p.m. Base officials said they did everything possible to help the man.
“The patient received immediate medical assistance from a Kadena Medical Response Team,” a statement from 18th Wing Public Affairs Office read. “As the team was working diligently to resuscitate the man, Kadena officials contacted Japanese emergency services and the patient was transported to a local hospital by an off-base ambulance.”
The Kadena statement charged that the local press exaggerated the incident.
“There have been incorrect reports surrounding the unfortunate death of a local man during Kadena Air Base’s AmericaFest,” the release stated.
Air Force officials directed further inquires to “local authorities.”
The Okinawa City Fire Headquarters is reviewing the incident.
“The 62-year-old man was visiting the air base with his family and lost consciousness after choking on what is believed to be a hot dog,” Takamiyagi said. “The fire headquarters received a call from the air base at 4:09 p.m. and was directed by the military to wait for an escort at the base’s Gate 2. An ambulance arrived at the gate at 4:09 p.m., but did not make it to the site until 4:25 p.m.
“With such a huge crowd, we understand the traffic was heavily congested all over on the base,” he said.
He said that CPR had been performed before the ambulance arrived, but the patient was not breathing and his heart was no longer beating. He said military ambulances do not transport Japanese patients.
The man was taken to Nakagami Hospital in Okinawa City, where he was pronounced dead.