MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — A change in Defense Department policy has prompted the closure of Fire Station No. 3 in Misawa’s North Area.

In December, a new DOD instruction came out increasing the minimum response time for structural fires, medical emergencies and most other fires on military installations from five to seven minutes.

Firefighters at Misawa conducted time trials along various routes in March and were "able to get anywhere on base within seven minutes very easily" from Station No. 1, said Chief Master Sgt. Troy Edwards, the base’s chief of fire and emergency services.

Because Station No. 1 can handle the North Area within the given time, Pacific Air Forces directed the fire department to close the Station No. 3, Edwards said. It was shuttered last Tuesday.

Base firefighters will continue to man Station No. 2 across from the high school and Station No. 1, about halfway between Main Base and North Area. The response to the North Area will come from Station No. 1, Edwards said.

Station No. 2 will stay open because of the three-minute required response time to aircraft emergencies, Edwards said.

The North Area is mostly residential, a mix of officer and enlisted housing with a school and child development center.

From Station No. 3, firefighters could respond to most North Area locations within two to three minutes after the initial alarm, Edwards said.

"Now we’re looking at an additional two minutes," he said, "which in the eyes of someone who’s house is on fire, that may seem like a long time."

But "that’s a hiccup," he said. "We are going to get there extremely fast and this closure isn’t going to impact their safety."

Yongsan Duraccio, an Air Force spouse who lives in the North Area, said her neighborhood is quiet, with few fires.

"If it’s a big fire, two minutes could be critical," she said. "But I don’t think it’s a problem."

Edwards said the fire department averages about two calls per week out to North Area.

The department responds to all 911 calls, from actual fires and reports of smoke to medical emergencies and false alarms.

Budget constraints did not drive the DOD policy change, Edwards said, but rather an effort to more closely align with civilian standards.

The closure of Station No. 3 will, however, save Misawa’s fire department four personnel positions — a bonus given the department’s busy deployment schedule and the loss of 10 manning slots due to recent Air Force personnel cuts and the civil engineering transformation, Edwards said.

Base chief: Fire reports on rise

Reports of fires have been on the increase at Misawa Air Base, according to the base fire chief.

Since Oct. 1, the start of fiscal 2007, 15 fires have been reported — six of those caused by unattended cooking, according to Chief Master Sgt. Troy Edwards, chief of fire and emergency services. In fiscal 2006, there were a total of 20 fires, six from unattended cooking.

To stamp out the rising trend, the fire department has revamped its fire safety training requirements for new base residents.

People previously completed online fire safety training at the housing office. Firefighters will now visit new residents in their homes to give them hands-on instruction, Edwards said. Some lessons will impart good sense in the kitchen.

New arrivals also will be required to take fire extinguisher training at one of the fire stations, Edwards said.

— Jennifer H. Svan

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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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