CAMP ZAMA, Japan — U.S. Army and Sagamihara City officials sketched a tentative plan in October to let some Japanese emergency vehicles cross U.S. Army installations to reach emergencies more quickly, officials said.

The deal would allow municipal, but not private, emergency vehicles to enter and exit two gates at Camp Zama and Sagami Depot, officials said. It’s been under consideration since before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. After force protection levels eased this summer, Sagamihara and Zama resumed their talks.

“The city greatly appreciates the U.S. Forces accepting the city’s request to protect lives and wealth from the human stance,” said Nobuyuki Nakajima, liaison official at Sagamihara city hall.

The city approached Army officials two years ago after a fatal fire near Sagami Depot. Traversing the Depot could have saved time and reduced the devastation, Nakajima said.

“It cuts down approximately five minutes,” he said.

U.S. and Japanese officials had signed an agreement that year to allow U.S. bases and cities to forge individual access agreements. Bases on Okinawa were the first to do so.

Under the tentative Camp Zama agreement reached in October, emergency vehicles would be escorted by military police or fire officials, but if an escort is not available, such vehicles could travel alone on set routes, said Maj. Randy Cephus, U.S. Army Japan spokesman.

“For the most part, they’ll be escorted,” Cephus said.

Sagamihara city officials said all vehicles will be registered and they will notify bases of emergencies requiring base access.

But Army officials said before the arrangememt can take effect, Army officials must rebuild Sagami Depot’s Gate 3 to make it more secure.

The work is expected to take about six months and cost $70,000, Cephus said.

Once it’s complete, Army and city officials will sign a formal agreement. “We hope to actualize it in March of next year,” said Nakajima.

The city is paying between $10,000 and $15,000 toward the new gate access, Cephus said.

Emergency vehicles will use emergency flashers and sirens only if traffic doesn’t move out of the way, Cephus said. The emergency vehicles will have right-of-way over U.S. vehicles, he said.

They’ll enter and exit Gates 1 and 7 at Camp Zama and at Sagami Depot either Gate 1 or 5, depending of the time of day, and Gate 3.

Commanders can nullify the agreement in the event of an emergency or attack on post, Cephus said.

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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